Winter is back, and so are its injuries
Winter conditions blowing into the mountains bring a whole set of injuries and ailments to avoid. Injuries from winter sports, hazardous driving conditions, and even just walking down the street, are back. Common injuries range from broken bones to sun-burned eyes, but common sense can go a long way in preventing them.
Dr. Michael MacQuarrie, emergency medicine department director at Tahoe Forest Hospital, has almost 30 years of experience in winter injuries.
MacQuarrie said the hospital treats a large number of injuries from people walking on ice and slipping, which usually results in ankle and wrist fractures.
“We have already had two this morning before 10,” MacQuarrie said Monday morning. “We had one ankle fracture and one wrist.”
Avoiding these types of injuries is as simple as slowing down and buying a good pair of snow boots, he said.
“It can be slippery even under the snow,” MacQuarrie said. “People get injured before they even make it to the ski resorts.”
Once people make it to the slopes, injuries suffered are different for skiers and snowboarders, MacQuarrie said.
“We primarily see wrist injuries from snowboarders and knee injuries from skiers,” MacQuarrie said.
He said skiing or snowboarding within the rider’s ability level, and not getting too tired at the end of the day help prevent injuries, but MacQuarrie doesn’t expect to see a big reduction in those injuries any time soon.
“Snowboarders are risk-takers,” he said. “It’s why they are out there.”
As the snow hardens from slush or powder to hard-pack and ice, injuries move up the body ” from knee and wrist injuries to shoulder and head injuries, he said.
Carl Davis, the assistant patrol director at Boreal Mountain Resort, said ski patrol sees a variety of injuries.
“We get a little bit of everything. If you can think of it ” we’ve seen it,” Davis said.
The 16-person patrol may do anything from putting a bandage on a scrape, to using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on somebody suffering a heart attack, Davis said.
MacQuarrie said the potential for the most severe injury comes from driving in winter conditions.
“Not only is your own safety at risk, but others as well,” MacQuarrie said.
Using seat belts and proper child seats are very important to help minimize injury, MacQuarrie said, and people should not rely too heavily on four-wheel drive.
“People with four-wheel drive feel they are capable of driving faster, feel more invincible, but when there is ice they slide as much as any other vehicle,” MacQuarrie said.
Eye protection is also an important winter-safety precaution, MacQuarrie said.
“Without good sunglasses and a hat you can get a burn on the surface of the eye ” like a sunburn but much more painful,” MacQuarrie said.
Dehydration is also common. People don’t realize they are losing water through sweat in the winter, and may experience fatigue and headaches as a result, MacQuarrie said.
Altitude sickness is more unusual, but is unpredictable, he said, and the only cure is getting to a lower elevation.
Symptoms of altitude sickness for the altitudes in the Truckee-Tahoe area are headache and nausea, MacQuarrie said.