September 21, 2017 by Bethany Rundell and John Fernandez
Top Storm-Recovery Injuries to Avoid
Injuries related to storm recovery activities are of major concern to healthcare providers as residents of South Florida clean up debris in the heat, inspect roofs and swelter in homes that have yet to have power restored.
Emergency rooms are busy with people sustaining injuries related to the clean-up process and conditions created in Hurricane Irma’s wake.
“We’re seeing a lot of patients who have fallen off ladders and many lacerations,” says Sergio Segarra, M.D., chief medical officer at Baptist Hospital of Miami. “We have a significant portion of the population that remains without electricity or air-conditioning. The extremes in age of the population, from the very young to the elderly, are most susceptible to heat-related injuries.”
Stress related to post-storm conditions are also making people ill. Ordinarily, stress can be a risk factor for common chronic conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. The stress of having no electricity, taking part in post-hurricane clean-up and getting little sleep can add up to serious health issues.
“Stress can manifest itself into physical ailments, everything from heart palpitations to gastrointestinal issues and general malaise,” says Dr. Segarra. “There are people who haven’t been able to rest well. It’s important to get rest. Many people are working 36 or 48 hours straight. Some people function on pure adrenaline for a long time. But it comes a time when our bodies just give up and we have to prevent that from happening — so that our bodies won’t shut down.”
Here are the most common injuries emergency physicians are seeing related to storm recovery:
Falls from ladders, roofs
Residents may be inclined to climb ladders to clear rooftops and gutters of debris or inspect for any damage. If you feel tired or dizzy, or are prone to losing your balance, stay off ladders. Factors that contribute to falls from ladders include haste, sudden movement, lack of attention, the condition of the ladder (worn or damaged), the user’s age or physical condition, or both, and the user’s footwear, according to the American Ladder Institute. It is highly recommended to only climb ladders with assistance from a second person who can hold the ladder steady and help guide the climber.
Dehydration or heat exhaustion
Working outside in the South Florida heat for long periods of time, or living in a home without power, can take their toll on the body. Here are signs to look for that could mean you are dehydrated and possibly on a path to heat exhaustion, a more serious condition. Keep in mind, as soon as you feel thirsty, dehydration is underway. Drink plenty of water. If you don’t have to urinate while in the heat, you need to drink more fluids. Headaches can also develop while dehydrated. Once your head starts to hurt, you’re likely entering the next phase of heat-related illness – heat exhaustion.
Carbon monoxide exposure from power generators
The improper placement of portable generators near windows or near running air-conditioning units can expose families inside the home to poisonous carbon monoxide fumes, which are odorless. Children are especially vulnerable. Never use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas — even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. Symptoms of CO exposure can begin with light headaches and overall malaise, and escalate to more severe headaches, nausea and vomiting.
Cuts, abrasions and lacerations
Cleaning up fallen branches or other debris can lead to cuts and abrasions on both hands and feet. Be extremely cautious when using chainsaws and other sharp tools when clearing debris. Get immediate medical attention for a laceration or wound that is deep, bleeds heavily, or has something embedded in it. If it’s a minor cut or scrape, wash your hands with soap and water. Then rinse the cut or scrape with cool water to remove dirt and debris. You can use soap and water to clean minor cuts. You don’t necessarily need cleaning solutions like hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or rubbing alcohol to treat minor cuts and scrapes — these could irritate the wound.
People are accustomed to dealing with everyday stress. But recovery from Hurricane Irma’s impact can elevate stress levels to new heights, creating the potential for serious health issues. Post-storm stress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping. Getting enough rest is vital. Essential workers, such as emergency medical personnel, utility workers and first-responders are also vulnerable to health issues after going for long stretches of time without sleep.