Waterfall Safety—7 Things You Should Know

Boy playing in waterBy Cherry Odom, BSN, RN-BC

Each summer, as more people visit the beautiful waterfalls of western North Carolina, there is an increase in related injuries treated in the emergency department.

Waterfall Safety Tips

“Perhaps people will heed warnings and follow safety guidelines, which may result in their enjoying the outdoors without suffering injuries,” said Dr. Karlsson. He recommends the waterfall safety guidelines from North Carolina State Parks available here [1] and highlighted these seven tips:

1. Wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots.
2. Stay on developed trails. Do not stray from observation decks and platforms.
3. Pay attention to warning signs and rules posted near waterfalls.
4. Never climb on or around waterfalls.
5. Never jump off waterfalls or dive into plunge pools.
6. Supervise children and pets carefully.
7. Never play in the stream or river above a waterfall, or try to take photos at the top of a waterfall.

Types of Injuries

Jonas Karlsson, MD, trauma surgeon with Mission Trauma Services, said the injuries range from drownings, skull and head injuries or facial trauma to fractures of the neck, ribs, lower extremities, lower spine or pelvis. Lacerations and lung injuries are also often seen.

“Some injuries are managed without any operations, and recovery can be quick or slow,” Dr. Karlsson said. “Some people do not require admission. Severe traumatic brain injuries can take months or years for recovery, and sometimes only partially. Some spinal cord injuries can result in permanent paralysis.”

Dr. Karlsson noted that wounds contaminated with dirty water or dirt have a higher rate of infection than clean wounds. Drowning victims can have significant pneumonia from inhaling water.

COVID-19 and Wilderness Wanderings

“I would not be surprised in the least if we see an increase in wilderness trauma over this summer,” said Dr. Karlsson. Since exploring waterfalls may be an opportunity to get out of the house in areas where social distancing may be easier. You should follow precautions such as wearing a mask, washing your hands and keeping six feet apart.

In October 2021, Mission Hospital’s American College of Surgeons verification and state designation survey will follow up the application for Level 1 Trauma Center. “For over a decade, we have clinically met the extensive list of requirements to be Level 1,” said Dr. Karlsson. “This certification will recognize effective management of the most critically injured patients at the highest level.”

Jonas Karlsson, MD, is a trauma surgeon with Mission Trauma Services.

Mission Hospital’s Level II Trauma Center provides 24-hour immediate coverage by general surgeons and the specialties of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care. To learn more, visit missionhealth.org/trauma [2].