Home improvement can equal health risks

Apr 24, 2015

As winter turns to spring, a homeowner's thoughts turns to home improvement. But those needed chores around the house and yard come with the risk of injury. This week on “Take Care,” WRVO's health and wellness show, hosts Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen speak with Dr. Ryan Stanton, emergency physician and medical director at University of Kentucky Good Samaritan Hospital about the most common home improvement injuries.

Lorraine Rapp: Many accidents happen and they are just that -- accidents. What are some of the most common mistakes people make when they start a project at home?

Credit Collin Anderson / Flickr

Dr. Ryan Stanton: Well, getting into the warmer weather in the spring is like trying to get a bunch of couch potatoes up and tell them to run a marathon, it’s just asking for trouble. And for us, the emergency room in the spring is always a time where we get this huge influx of patients coming in and people just trying to save a few dollars to do things they probably are not best trained to do. Most common being falls off of ladders, roofs, and stools. People getting their tools out like the lawnmowers, the trimmers, anything sharp. And of course some of the lesser injuries- the back injuries from lifting and moving things. And then of course, every male needs to get out that hammer and nail and for some reason that thumb tries to get right there in the way and get smacked a few times. It’s common enough that I’ve probably done it a couple of times in the past three or four months myself. It’s one of those things, no matter how many times you do it, you just whack that thumb. Interestingly, there is quite a bit of potential injury there, not only to the ligaments and to the bones with fractures, but something we call a subungual hematoma, which basically means a blood clot or hematoma under the nail. That is one of those things that we have to drain to protect the nail, decrease the potential that you’ll lose it, and increase the potential that if you do lose it, that nail will come back normal down the road. So there is a potential injury to it more than just embarrassment.

Linda Lowen: Alright, let us go back to falls. Is the severity of a fall necessarily determined by distance from the ground, or can a fall still be a dangerous one at any distance?

Stanton: Any type of distance can be very, very dangerous and incredible things that you would think would be surely fatal, people walk away from. I’ve seen people in the emergency room that have fall thirty feet off the roof and basically walked away from it. I’ve seen people fall in the bathroom off their toilet and have had serious life threatening injuries. There are a lot of factors that go into it- height is one of them. The next one is the surface you land on. Is it a hard concrete surface or is it a mulch bed- a huge difference there. Also, there person that is falling- is it someone who is young and healthy or is it somebody elderly. And finally, it’s how are you falling. People do not fall in a controlled fashion, because that is a jump. You fall in a random ‘however way things catch you.’ So, if you’re falling down headfirst, of course your risk is going to be must higher than if you land on your legs or you rear end or something that has a little more padding to it.  

Lorraine Rapp: What are some of the common injuries you see in the emergency room associated with, just simply, trimming your hedges and mowing your lawn?

Stanton: By far the most common is sharp edges. The number of times I’ve seen somebody, especially early in the season, with a lawnmower that gets clogged up and they reach under the deck not even thinking about the fact there is a huge spinning piece of steel underneath there that will take their fingers off, we see some of those every single year. The hedge trimmers, the weed eaters cut right through flesh very quickly. So the most important thing is to make sure that you respect these sharp blades and try to stay well clear of them. And really more importantly than anything, is make sure the kids stay well clear.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.