Summer fun, summer safety
By: Jessica Woodward, M.D.
Lying on a beach. Swimming in a lake. A picnic at the park. Running a 5K. Going to a street fair. Riding a horse. You’ve probably got a number of fun plans on your summer to-do list, and it’s safe to say that an unexpected visit to the doctor isn’t one of them. Summer is a time of fun in the out of doors, but fun activities can include risk of illness or injury. Keep your summer fun and healthy this year by following these safety precautions.
Being active outdoors in the heat and sun can bring on dehydration more quickly during the summer months. Symptoms include: increased thirst, dry mouth, swollen tongue, weakness, dizziness, a pounding heart, confusion and fainting. To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic). Water is preferred. Keep a bottle handy throughout the day and sip often. Take regular breaks in the shade or indoors and schedule your most vigorous activities for times when the heat isn’t as strong – usually early morning or later in the day.
Heatstroke is the most severe form of dehydration and is considered a medical emergency. The body’s internal temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit and often the first symptom is fainting. Other symptoms include: red skin, a lack of sweating despite the heat, a rapid pulse, headache, nausea, dizziness, shallow breathing, confusion and unconsciousness. Prevention for heatstroke is the same for dehydration. Heatstroke requires immediate care. If you suspect it, call 911 and seek medical attention. Ice packs and cool cloths can be used to help cool the skin.
We all know about sunscreen. The key to it working is using it properly. Choose a sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Apply 15 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every 90 minutes or after swimming. Stay out of the sun during the heat of midday (10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.). Wear a wide-brimmed hat. If you do get sunburned, take a cool shower or bath. Apply cool compresses to the affected area. Drink water to replace lost fluids. Aloe gel can soothe the burn. Acetaminophen helps relieve pain. If the burn is blistered or extremely painful or if there are additional symptoms such as facial swelling, nausea, fever, chills, rapid pulse and breathing, confusion, dizziness or signs of skin infection, seek medical attention immediately.
A picnic is no picnic if it includes food poisoning. Eating outdoors in the warm weather doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster. Foods to be especially careful with are those containing mayonnaise, dairy, eggs and meat. To prevent food poisoning the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises the following. Prior to cooking and after eating, store food in a cooler with a temperature of 40 degrees or less. Wash your hands as well as the surfaces where you’ll be preparing food. Keep raw meat separate from other foods at all times. Use a meat thermometer when grilling meat. Minimum temperature for steaks is 145 degrees, ground beef and pork 160 degrees and poultry 165 degrees. Mild cases of food poisoning can be treated at home. Drink small sips of clear liquid to stay hydrated. Avoid solid foods until nausea and vomiting have eased. When you return to eating, start with small bland portions. If symptoms persist for more than 48 hours (24 hours for small children) contact your physician.
For most of us, bugs are nuisances and bug bites are minor irritations. Bites can be treated by removing the stinger, washing the bite area, applying a topical cream for itching, a cold pack for swelling and taking a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, if needed. For some, a tiny bug can cause a life threatening reaction with symptoms such as swelling of the throat and lips, nausea, respiratory problems, faintness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, confusion and shock. If this happens, seek medical help immediately. People known to have this type of severe allergic reaction should carry a dose of self-injectable epinephrine (EpiPen) with them at all times.
Here’s another case of a tiny arachnid causing serious complications. Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks and western black-legged ticks, which life in wooded, grassy areas. When visiting such areas, wear long sleeves and pants. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear close-toe shoes. Wear an insect repellent with DEET. Do a daily tick check. Remove ticks using a tweezers to grasp the head and mouth as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick out slowly, trying not to squish or twist. Wash the site. Save the tick in a plastic bag to show your doctor later, if needed. Symptoms of Lyme disease start with a red circular rash with a clear center, appearing three days to a month after the bite. Other symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, headache, joint and muscle pain. If you experience symptoms, contact your physician without delay. Treatment includes antibiotics. People not receiving treatment can develop weakness, stiff and swollen joints, rash, abnormal heartbeat, extreme fatigue, nervous system problems and arthritis.
Poison Ivy, etc.
If you don’t know what poison ivy, sumac and oak look like, check online for a visual. Then, avoid touching these plants. If you do brush up against a problem plant, wash the area immediately with soap and water. If the oils of the plant are absorbed, a rash usually develops within a day or two. Treatment with hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, diphenhydramine cream and oral antihistamines can help ease itching and swelling, which typically lasts about a week.
Summer fun does come with potential hazards, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Keep summer hazards at bay this year with a few commonsense habits and practices for safety – whether it’s at the beach, the pool or in your own back yard.
Dr. Woodward is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.