How Icicles Can Be Surprisingly Dangerous

Practical tips on how to stay safe around these hanging hazards

How Icicles Can Be Surprisingly Dangerous

As if the snow and cold have not been enough to deal with this winter, another danger now hangs over our heads: the large icicles that have formed on many homes and buildings.

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This winter’s heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures have created dramatic icicles and massive ice dams on many rooftops. Now with temperatures growing warmer, these frozen sculptures have started to crash down to the ground below.

Falling ice can cause injuries this time of the year, says Emergency Medicine physician Seth Podolsky, MD.

“The biggest concern when you get hit by an icicle, of course, is you could get cut and start to bleed, or in the case of being hit on the head, you could end up with a concussion,” Dr. Podolsky says.

Treating cuts

Dr. Podolsky says if an icicle hits you in the head, you may see an alarming amount of blood at first. That’s because the scalp contains a lot of blood vessels. But it’s important to remain calm and get the bleeding under control with direct pressure.

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To treat a minor cut to the head, wash your hands with soap or antibacterial cleanser, then gently wash the cut with mild soap and water. Use direct pressure to stop the bleeding, and then apply an antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage that will not stick to the wound.

If you are hit in the head by a large piece of falling ice and don’t bleed, you still may be injured. If you develop a headache or feel nauseous or vomit, Dr. Podolsky says you may have a concussion and should seek medical attention immediately.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head. The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull. This leads to stretching and damaging of brain cells and chemical changes in the brain.

Breaking bones

Icicles are rarely sharp enough to penetrate your skin or impale you, but they can cause bad bruises and even broken bones.

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Dr. Podolsky says to resist the urge to knock down icicles while standing on a ladder or by climbing on the roof. Winter weather makes these types of activities extremely unsafe because of the risk of falling.

Consider calling in experienced professionals to remove ice buildup or icicles that are extraordinarily large.

“Ladders are extremely dangerous because the ground is slippery and creates unstable conditions,” Dr. Podolsky says. “There can be snow and ice buildup on the rungs and on the bottoms of your shoes. Often you just don’t know what’s on the ledge that you’re leaning the ladder against. There could be icicles, or ice, the ledge could break, or the ladder could slip or move.”

Dr. Podolsky says if you do get hurt by falling ice and you’re unsure how severely you may be injured, err on the side of caution and go to the Emergency Department.

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