Doctor offers health tips for extreme winter weather


With much of Indiana in the firm grip of winter, Dr. Jeremy Gagan of Community Hospital East urges people to exercise caution and be aware of the risks associated with bitter cold temperatures, ice, wind and snow.

An emergency room physician for nearly 20 years, Gagan has “seen it all” with regard to winter-related injuries, including falls and heart issues.

Gagan said during bouts of cold weather, the emergency room predominantly sees an increase of fall-related injuries.

“If there is ice, we’ll see a lot of falls and a lot of wrist and ankle injuries,” said Gagan. “We’ll see some head injuries, too, but predominantly wrist and ankle.”

But falling isn’t the only risk associated with winter precipitation. For people with cardiac issues, shoveling snow can also pose a risk if not done correctly.

“There’s always that risk of a lot of snow producing excessive effort and somebody having a cardiac event,” Gagan said. “We don’t see that as frequently as people may think, but for the person it happens to, just a few times is too many. It’s entirely preventable. It is not normal to not be able to catch your breath. You need to come to the emergency room if that occurs.

“Take nice, long breaks if you plan to shovel your driveway by hand. Do not shovel your driveway if you have a heart condition.”

Gagan said when a person displays or feels signs of skin discoloration from the cold, it’s vital to go inside.

“If you are starting to show signs of red, blue or even worse — white discoloration on your skin — it’s time to go inside and re-warm up,” Gagan said. “Give it a couple of hours before you go back outside.”

Gagan said the time to visit a health professional is when a person begins to feel numbness and their skin turns white. Professionals can help slowly and carefully re-warm extremities.

“If you’ve got numb fingers, toes, ears, nose and the skin is blanched (turned white), you need to go to the hospital to make sure it’s re-warmed appropriately and the color comes back,” Gagan said.

Besides winter-related injuries, Gagan emergency rooms typically treat a lot of flu cases during the winter.

“With influenza, you can expect it to be highly contagious,” he said. “If multiple people in your household have symptoms of fever, runny nose, cough or sore throat, then it is likely influenza.”

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