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Winter Wonderland: 8 ways to avoid the ER this winter

When the weather outside is frightful, a visit to the hospital emergency room is not so delightful.

But for physicians like Dr. Nathan MacDonald, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Lowell General Hospital, winter weather means seeing more people with seasonal injuries coming through the Emergency Department.

Slips and falls are No. 1, MacDonald says, but, frostbite, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning and concussions and broken bones stemming from winter sports, snow blower use and shoveling all contribute to winter visits to the ED.

While not all of these injuries are entirely preventable, a little common sense can prevent many of them, MacDonald says.

Here are 8 tips to help you keep safe and healthy this winter:

  1. Treat slippery spots with ice melt, especially for the elderly, who can be seriously debilitated by a broken bone.

  2. If you have a family member with a cane or walker, make sure it has rubber feet.

  3. Never reach into a snow blower. Injuries can and do happen.

  4. Be sure to have carbon monoxide detectors in your house with fresh batteries. A telltale sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is a headache.

  5. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never run propane heaters inside and clear your furnace vents and car exhaust of snow.

  6. If you are shivering, lack coordination or have slurred speech from the cold, you may have hypothermia. Take a warm bath if possible.

  7. For many injuries, take advantage of urgent care centers. If you have an injury like a sprain or break, urgent cares can typically diagnose and treat them without an appointment, leaving the ED for the most serious illnesses and injuries.

  8. Always wear a helmet when doing winter sports. Helmets reduce head injuries and provide valuable warmth.

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