Here in the northeast, summer is almost universally celebrated. We all love the warm weather and all of the fun it allows. Sunny days of swimming, hiking or biking, and cooking out are fun, but they come with some risks. I hope you’ll take a minute to review the list of common summer injuries below and take the easy, preventive measures to keep you and your family safe this summer.
Dehydration is one of the most common summer health problems, especially among the elderly and athletes. On a hot, muggy day, people can sweat up to several cups of fluid per hour, sometimes more with exertion. Symptoms of dehydration include unusual fatigue, muscle cramping, and dizziness. To prevent dehydration, tank up on plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Water is best, but lemonade or ice tea work too.
Sunshine is a treat, but sunburns are no fun. And they can happen faster than you think, even in partly cloudy conditions. Luckily, the preventive measure takes just a few minutes. Use sunscreen. Look for varieties labeled 30 – 50 SPF to avoid burns. Reapply throughout the day. If you are burned, turn to an aloe lotion and a mild oral pain reliever, like ibuprofen.
Working on your lawn and garden may lead to encounters with stinging insects. To avoid bee stings, avoid wearing perfumes or colognes when outdoors. Bees, hornets and wasps are attracted to these scents. Wear light colored clothing such as khaki, white, or beige—rather than bright colors—while working in the garden. If you have a bee sting allergy, make sure to bring your prescribed medication with you when you are away from home.
One of the best parts of summer is the food. But it’s easy to lose track of time and let summer food sit out too long. This can cause food poisoning. Food spoils when left unrefrigerated. To avoid a trip to ExpressCare for salmonella food poisoning, keep your meats and dairy products in a cooler or on ice. When in doubt, throw it out.
Swimming is great exercise, but swimming and diving accidents are common. There are a few simple rules to keep you and your family safe in the water. Young children should never be left unattended and should always wear proper flotation equipment when swimming.
Diving into water that is too shallow and striking the bottom or an underwater object can cause devastating neck and spinal cord injuries. Make sure that you have thoroughly checked out your water landing before you jump. And remember, alcohol and any water activity can make a dangerous combination. If you have time, take a CPR class. You never know when you might need it.
When the weather is good, many people choose to get around in ways that make them more vulnerable to injuries. Wearing helmets and driving defensively can prevent harm in the case of a bicycle, ATV, and motorcycle accident. But it is still worthwhile to take a bit of extra care. Other drivers may not see you, so take steps to make yourself more visible, such as bright clothing and vehicle lights. And wear protective clothing to avoid scrapes.
Many people enjoy campfires this time of year. Whether you are sitting around a campfire or grilling up some burgers, be cautious around fire. Just a moment of inattention can lead to significant burns. Pay particularly close attention to small children around grills and fires.
Fireworks may seem like a fun activity, but they cause a lot of injuries. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks were involved in 10,500 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments during calendar year 2014. It is best to leave fireworks to the professionals. If you feel you must celebrate with explosives, read the directions carefully, don’t drink alcohol while playing with fireworks, and never leave children with fireworks without adult supervision.
I hope the moment of pause you take before having your summer fun will keep you and your family safe. The more care and attention you pay before your summer activity the less likely you are to be hanging out at ExpressCare or in the Emergency Department.
Mark J. Zimpfer, MD, is the medical director for SVMC ExpressCare and an emergency physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.