Winter in Montana can bring some extra challenges, and that means extra awareness can go a long way. From cold weather to illness, from icy walkways to proper heating and home maintenance, knowing what to look out for is key to having a safe and happy winter.
As an emergency department physician, Dr. Nathan Allen, chairman of the Billings Clinic Emergency Medicine Department, sees plenty of patients come through with winter-related illnesses and injuries. There are some simple things to keep in mind during the cold, snowy and icy days of the season, and here he shares his top tips for winter safety in Montana.
Don’t be in a hurry when there is ice or snow. Falls and car accidents due to slippery conditions are major causes of injury. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 million Americans are injured annually from slipping on snow or ice. Allen recommends wear shoes with good traction, walking carefully and watching your step getting in and out of cars.
Additionally, there are an estimated 156,000 vehicle crashes due to icy roads each year in the U.S., resulting in injuries to more than 116,000 people.
“Remember, 4-wheel drive doesn’t help you stop faster, car accidents in icy conditions happen because you can’t stop, not because you can’t go,” Allen said. “Check the weather and road conditions before long-distance trips, slow down, and leave yourself more space to stop.”
Winter is the season for coughs, colds, and the flu. Influenza season is here already and can be deadly. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), there were nearly 1,000 confirmed influenza cases in Montana by the end of 2019. That number continues to rise, as January and February are often the most active flu months of the season. The best treatment is prevention. Make sure to avoid close contact with people with the flu, wash your hands regularly, stay home if you become ill, cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, and, most importantly, get your flu shot.
“It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” Allen said. “They work and it’s an important yearly heath intervention, especially for the elderly or chronically ill.”
Shoveling snow is HARD work. It can cause stress on the muscles, joints and heart, and can lead to injuries. Make sure to wear warm clothing and appropriate footwear with good traction, take breaks and drink plenty of water. Shoveling can also cause strain on the heart, so knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack – including chest pain or discomfort, nausea, light-headedness, shortness of breath or pain in the jaw, neck, shoulder, arm or back – is also important. If you do experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
“If you have heart or other chronic health problems, ask your doctor if you are healthy enough to shovel snow,” Allen said. “And if you use a snowblower, shut it completely OFF and use a tool to clear snow jams to avoid serious finger and hand injuries.”
Make sure you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector and your furnace has been appropriately serviced. Gas and oil-burning furnaces produce carbon monoxide, and that can increase as those furnaces are used more to heat homes and buildings during the winter. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that, according to the CDC, claims the lives of hundreds of people every year and makes thousands more ill. Yearly furnace inspections and making sure your carbon monoxide detectors work are important steps to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, nausea, and confusion,” Allen said. “If you are worried you might be exposed, leave the area immediately and seek medical attention.”
In the event of an emergency, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency department.
Should something unexpected happen, several Billings Clinic services are there to make getting quick health care as easy and stress-free as possible. ExpressCare and SameDay Care each offer easy ways to get the care you need when you need it, with options available seven days a week at various locations around Billings.
Each of the three ExpressCare locations around Billings—located inside the Alberstons stores at 3107 Grand Ave., 670 Main St. and 511 Central Ave.—offers patients quick access for minor medical issues. The trained, professional medical providers at these locations can help treat things like bug bites, chickenpox, colds, ear infections, minor burns, pink eye, shingles and sinus infections.
At SameDay Care— on Billings Clinic’s Downtown campus at Eighth Avenue North and North Broadway, in the Heights at 760 Wicks Lane and on the West End at 2675 Central Avenue—patients have access to care for services that complement those provided by their family doctors. Besides treating injuries from slips on the ice or small tumbles, they can assess flu symptoms, coughs, colds, sprains, earaches, sore throats, minor cuts or wounds, sprains or minor fractures, back strain, and other minor illnesses and injuries. On-site X-ray and 24-hour lab access are also available.
Both are convenient and quick, which is especially important over the holidays. It’s a busy time of year and every moment is valuable. At each of the three ExpressCare locations, patients can find a time that works best for them by scheduling appointments through the ExpressCare mobile app or by visiting ecare.billingsclinic.org. At the downtown SameDay Care location, Billings Clinic has moved to appointment-only scheduling, meaning patients don’t have to wait in a busy waiting room. Instead, patients can call, make an appointment, and arrive a few minutes early to receive care that same day. Appointments can be made by calling (406) 238-2677. The West End and Heights SameDay Care offices accept walk-ins.
The downtown SameDay Care location and all three ExpressCare locations are open seven days a week. The West End SameDay Care is open Monday through Saturday, and the Heights location is open Monday through Friday. ExpressCare is also open regular hours on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and is closed on Christmas Day.
For more information on ExpressCare or to schedule an appointment, visit www.billingsclinic.com/expresscare or call 657-4500. For more information on SameDay Care or to schedule an appointment, visit www.billingsclinic.com/samedaycare or call 238-2677.