An environmental injury occurs when a victim is exposed to something dangerous in their immediate vicinity. The types of injuries caused by environmental factors vary, from long-term illnesses to immediate trauma. To help you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe, we’ve compiled this article on common environmental injuries. By exploring the signs and symptoms of some of the more frequently encountered environmental hazards, we hope to reduce the risk to the general public.
What Causes Environmental Injuries?
A recent study by Freedman Law shows that environmental injuries can occur under a daunting number of circumstances. From feral animals to defective stoves, there are countless factors in our surroundings that have the potential to cause harm to the unwary. Although this is not a comprehensive list, environmental injuries can be caused by:
- Drowning (or near-drowning)
- Lightning or shock injuries
- Animal bites or stings
- Unsafe temperatures
- Altitude illness or mountain sickness
- Exposure to poisons or toxins
- Unsafe chemicals in the home, workplace, or nature
Depending on the nature of the incident and the victim’s proximity to a hospital or other medical facility, the victim may suffer severe, moderate, or minor injuries.
What Are Some of the Most Common Environmental Injuries?
Environmental injuries exist in many forms, depending on where you live, where you work, and what your hobbies are. Your location can play a major role in determining your risk factors for specific types of injuries; someone living by the beach in Southern California would be unlikely to get altitude sickness at their house, while a person living in a hot environment would be less likely to suffer frostbite. However, some dangers are present in almost all locations, such as wild animals, hot objects, and hazardous chemicals. We’ve categorized and described some of the more common environmental injuries below.
Frostbite occurs when the victim’s skin and deeper structures begin to freeze due to extreme cold. If untreated for a long enough time, severe tissue damage can occur. Exposure to moisture or cold weather increases your risk of developing frostbite, particularly if you are wearing light clothing, are at high altitude, or there is heavy wind chill.
When your body loses heat faster than it can replace it, you suffer a condition known as hypothermia. This dangerous ailment generally occurs due to prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures. People that participate in cold-weather activities, such as surfing, sailing, skiing, or snowboarding, are at particularly high risk of hypothermia.
Electrical & Heat-Related Injuries
If your body temperature reaches or exceeds 104 F, you may be suffering from a dangerous condition called heatstroke. Heatstroke usually occurs during the summer months and may occur due to extreme physical exertion. This condition may be confused with heat exhaustion, another heat-related illness that occurs when a victim loses too much fluid via sweating.
Heatstroke requires immediate medical intervention, as it can cause rapid damage to the heart, kidneys, brain, and muscles. Possible symptoms include flushed skin, a headache, high body temperature, fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, or an altered mental state.
Excessive heat from thermal, chemical, electrical, or electromagnetic energy can inflict a burn. One of the most common types of burn injuries is the simple sunburn, which almost everyone will encounter at some point in their life. However, even a sunburn is capable of causing permanent skin damage, while also increasing the burn victim’s risk of cancer. To avoid burns, be sure to wear sunscreen, stay away from environmental hazards (such as camp stoves or live wires), and always handle hot objects with care.
Lightning tends to strike tall or isolated objects, but a little-known fact is that electrical currents can travel through the ground or nearby objects to conduct themselves in a victim. In some instances, lightning has even struck more than ten miles from a thunderstorm, despite calm weather. If you’re going outside for a substantial period of time, such as to exercise or go hiking, be sure to stay up-to-date on weather patterns in your area. If a thunderstorm occurs, seek shelter indoors or in a metal motor vehicle. While in a car, do not touch any metal components of the vehicle.
If you ascend to a high elevation quickly, you may encounter altitude sickness. You can experience this condition if you travel to a location much higher than your home or ascend a sizeable mountain too quickly. Typically, altitude sickness occurs at altitudes of 8,000 feet or higher, and those that live closer to sea level are more vulnerable to developing this ailment.
If you experience severe altitude sickness, you may experience confusion, an inability to walk, a cough that produces a frothy or pink substance, or unusual shortness of breath. Seek help and move to a lower altitude immediately if you begin exhibiting these symptoms.
An abrasion is an open wound that occurs when your skin is caught on or dragged across a rough surface. Even if you only suffer what appears to be a minor scrape, it’s important to thoroughly clean and bandage the wound. Doing so reduces the risk of infection, which can cause life-threatening complications, particularly if you do not have immediate access to a hospital or urgent care.
Exposure to Chemicals, Pollution, or Toxins
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulate, monitor, and seek to minimize human actions and behaviors that harm living beings and the environment. However, pollution and chemicals nonetheless have a massive impact on humans across the globe. The following factors can cause property damage and environmental illnesses:
- Chemical manufacturing & waste
- Pollution that infiltrates water tables or public waterways
- Excessive air pollution
- Improper or excessive pesticide use
Stay Aware of Potential Environmental Hazards
While many environmental injuries occur suddenly and with little warning, others can be prevented through careful observation of one’s surroundings. If you notice conditions that seem out of place or are experiencing sudden symptoms of illness, seek assistance and remove yourself from the source of the dangerous condition as soon as you safely can.