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Practice Safe Winter Sports

Every year, thousands of children and adults in the U.S. are treated at Emergency departments for head injuries related to winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding and snowmobiling.

In fact, according to the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, up to 27% of reported injuries involve the head and/or face. It has become the predominant type of injury in downhill skiing, accounting for 50-88% of downhill skiing fatalities. A bump on the head doesn’t have to be severe to be life-threatening – just remember the recent tragic case of actress Natasha Richardson whose seemingly uneventful fall while skiing resulted in a deadly head injury.

How can you stay safe in winter?

Most important, wear sport-specific helmets or protective headgear approved by ASTM International, a leader in the development of international voluntary standards for product quality and safety. Or wear a helmet that meets or exceeds the safety standards developed by the American National Standards Institute, or the Snell Memorial Foundation.

Wearing a helmet that is properly fitted and worn correctly, as well as taking other precautions can protect you and your family from traumatic brain injury and other types of injuries to the head.

Dr. Cook“While death from head injuries on the ski slopes is relatively rare, minor head injury is not. Helmets provide protection in decreasing the likelihood of concussion and other minor head injuries. Though minor, these head injuries can have serious long term consequences including diminished IQ and eventual dementia,” says Bruce Cook, MD, a Lowell General Hospital neurosurgeon.

Dr. Cook offers these additional safety tips to reduce the risk of head injuries:

  • Don’t participate in sports when you’re ill, tired or have consumed alcohol
  • Don’t participate in sports in hazardous weather conditions
  • Be cautious when driving snowmobiles and stay on marked trails
  • Use only sleds that can be steered, and never go down a slope head first
  • Obey all posted signs and warnings on ski slopes, sledding hills and skating rinks

In addition, it’s vital to seek medical attention after a fall or blow to the head if you experience any of the following:

  • Any change in behavior, thinking or physical function
  • Pain or a constant or recurring headache
  • Inability to control or coordinate motor functions, or balance disturbance
  • Changes in ability to hear, taste or see, dizziness, hypersensitivity to light or sound
  • Disorientation and confusion, overstimulation by environment, shortened attention span, difficulty following directions or understanding information
  • Difficulty with speech or expressing words or thoughts

Helmets Rule!

48% of U.S. skiers and snowboarders of all ages wear helmets.

  • Better winter athletes wear helmets: in 2008/2009, 26% of beginners wore helmets, 38% of intermediates wore helmets, while 55% of advanced skiers wore helmets.
  • In 2003, only 18% of skiers and boarders ages 18-24 wore helmets - but today, 32% know better!

Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons

Read more Winter Sports Safety Tips from Nashoba Valley Ski Area and Lowell General Hospital.

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