How to Avoid Winter-Related ER Visits | MedStar Health

How to Avoid Winter-Related ER Visits

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Emergency Department Physician Sonja Devaul, MD, Advises Area Residents

Each winter, many Emergency Departments across the country see admissions for common winter conditions and emergencies caused by drops in temperature.  Falls on ice are common, particularly when ice forms that is difficult to see, and elderly people more easily break bones in falls. 

Emergency Department (ED) physicians also see patients who over-exert themselves shoveling, says ED physician Sonja Devaul, MD, who advises anyone out shoveling to take breaks, restrain themselves from overdoing an activity when they are not used to strenuous exercise, and to stay hydrated. 

Other common problems that bring patients into our hospital include colds, flu and coughs due to viruses and infections.  Dr. Devaul advises everyone to wash their hands thoroughly during the winter months to help prevent the spread of colds and flu, and to receive annual flu shots.  She also suggests we should layer our winter clothing and wear hats and gloves to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.  Nosebleeds are common as well, caused by the dry winter air. Dr. Devaul says sleeping with a humidifier in the room can help, as well as applying Vaseline in the nostrils.

There are also winter-related problems not often thought about, says Devaul.  First, she cites carbon monoxide poisoning as a danger during winter months.  Using space heaters and generators in areas that are not properly ventilated can lead to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in the air.  Since it is an odorless gas and the earliest symptom is drowsiness, poisoning can quickly incapacitate a person and may even lead to death.  Problems linked to space heaters are exacerbated for the elderly, smokers or those with pre-existing lung conditions.

Another winter-related complication seen in the Emergency Department are burns caused by space heaters and electric blankets.  Dr. Devaul urges caution and making sure to monitor children to prevent injury.

Dr. Devaul has been with MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Emergency Department for one year.  She came to the hospital from MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where she completed her residency. Dr. Devaul earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell and her doctor of medicine from the University of Buffalo.