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Bitter cold keeping ER doctors busy this week

At the Hennepin County Medical Center, doctors are seeing lots of people with carbon monoxide poisoning.

MINNEAPOLIS - Emergency room doctors have had lots of patients coming in with injuries related to the dangerous cold weather this week.

At the Hennepin County Medical Center, doctors are seeing lots of people with carbon monoxide poisoning.

"We've had fatalities this year," Hyperbaric Center Director Dr. Christopher Logue says.

The hyperbaric chamber works by pumping oxygen into a patient's body to flush out carbon excess monoxide.

St. Paul firefighters sent 10 people to the center New Year's Day when a boiler failed at a duplex.

Firefighters say two of the 10 victims had to be placed inside the hyperbaric chamber for treatment.

"We've had patients who have experienced carbon monoxide poisoning to the point where they've lost consciousness," Logue explains.

The most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is malfunctioning heaters and furnaces in people's homes.

However, Logue says ice fishermen are also at risk.

"Unfortunately we get one or two fatalities per year from people who got carbon monoxide poisoning while ice fishing," Logue says.

That's why he recommends buying a portable CO detector if you're going to spend any amount of time in an ice house this winter.

"It's much more sensitive than the detector you have at home," Logue says.

Emergency room doctors at HCMC are also seeing a major influx in frostbite patients this week. Most cases involve frostbite on the patient's hands, feet and face.

Logue says the cold air also brings concern for people with respiratory problems like COPD, asthma and emphysema.

To help protect yourself from the cold air, the American Lung Association is offering the following tips:

  1. Protect your nose and mouth with a scarf: Loosely wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  2. Monitor air quality forecasts to stay healthy. Air pollution can be very high in the winter, especially in areas with a lot of wood burning. Those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being harmed by air pollution.
  3. Keep medications close: If you have asthma or COPD, always keep quick-relief medications with you. Stop activity and use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have symptoms.
  4. Avoid wood-burning fireplaces: Although a wood-burning fireplace may seem like the perfect place to warm up, the smoke and fumes from fireplaces can be very irritating to people with allergies or lung disease. An alternate heat source and a warm blanket might be the best choice for beating the chill.

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