Injuries Doctors and ERs See Most Often in the Summer

When summer nears, many people dream of where they’d like to sneak away for a couple of days for a little vacation, but most don’t dream of spending some time in the ER. We’d like to keep it that way.

Here are a few injuries emergency physicians see frequently during the summer months and some ways to keep them from turning your fun in the sun into a trip to the ER.

Mower Injuries

Whether it’s building a fort in the backyard, playing a little game of catch or simply just trying to keep up with the Joneses, summer calls for a nicely mowed patch of grass, which unfortunately lands some people in the ER.   

“The dangers of a lawn mower are very real, but very preventable,” says Dr. Heath Beard, emergency department medical director at Texas Health Harris Methodist Outpatient Center Burleson.

Beard advises to keep children at a safe distance away from the area being mowed and never allow them to be passengers on a riding lawn mower.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be at least 12 years of age before operating a push lawn mower and 16 years of age before operating a riding lawn mower.

In addition, always wear safety goggles, long pants, long sleeves and sneakers (no flip-flops or bare feet) when mowing the lawn to prevent injuries from flying projectiles.

Lake Safety

In 2013, there were 206 boating accidents in Texas, resulting in 85 injuries and 22 fatalities. Of those fatalities, nearly 85 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.

“Swimming in a lake is different from taking a dip in your backyard or neighborhood pool,” said Dr. Mark Till, director of emergency medicine and physician on the medical staff

at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “As with any natural body of water, it’s important to consider every factor.”

One of the main culprits of boating accidents is alcohol. More than half of all people injured in a boating accident consumed alcohol beforehand, and 20 percent don’t live to tell the tale, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

To keep your family safe on the lake, never swim alone and never rely on toys like inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat.

With that in mind, integrate a buddy system and designate at least one adult to keep an eye on everyone who is in the water, especially children. According to the CDC, drowning victims rarely call for help or wave their arms, making drowning a silent killer. It’s also a fast killer. Within three minutes, or the time it takes you to reapply sunscreen or grab your phone, most people become unconscious.

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, everyone should wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) when boating, and all children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket. Unlike pool toys and water wings, these devices are designed to keep swimmers safely floating about the water.

Dehydration

When you’re having so much fun outdoors, it’s hard to remember to take a water break or sit in the shade for a bit to cool down. Unfortunately, not drinking more fluids than you’re sweating out or being in the direct sun for too long can lead to dehydration or heat stroke.

The first signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, little or no urination, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, rapid breathing and heartbeat, and fever.

Since heatstroke is the most severe form of dehydration, it’s important to manage your dehydration once you notice the first signs.

Heatstroke is when your internal temperature rises to dangerously high levels, similar to having a very high fever. Symptoms of heatstroke are the absence of sweating despite the temperature outside and your level of activity, skin that is hot to the touch, hallucinations, fainting, or seizures.

Preventing both is simple: Drink plenty of water; take regular breaks, preferably in the shade; and plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is not as high in the sky.

If you suspect someone is suffering from a severe form of dehydration or heatstroke, bring them indoors, have them lie down, and cool them off with ice packs and cool cloths as someone else calls 911.

Sunburn

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and affects more than 2 million people each year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the number of women under age 40 diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

Dr. Melissa Rubenstein, dermatologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, says sunscreen application should be a part of your daily routine, no matter what season it is.

Rubenstein says to properly cover your body you would need enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass. If applied correctly and reapplied every two to four hours, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 stops about 97 percent of UVB rays and SPF 50 obstructs 98 percent of UVB rays.

And ladies, just because your foundation may have an SPF rating, it doesn’t mean you can skimp on the sunscreen.

“Most women don’t apply enough makeup to get the full protective effect,” Rubenstein says.

For a product with an SPF rating of 20, a light coating may only provide protection equivalent to a 10.

“You do need a sunscreen underneath,” she says.

Food Poisoning

Cookouts and picnics are popular in the summer, which can pose the potential for food to reach unsafe temperatures.

Food poisoning puts about 300,000 people in the hospital every year, hitting its peak in the summer months. To be safe, Dr. Heather Beard suggests using a food thermometer when cooking to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. After everyone has eaten, also make sure to put items in the refrigerator or an adequately cold cooler within two hours of serving.

To keep food poisoning from ruining your cookout or family gathering, the U.S Department of Agriculture advises to thoroughly wash your hands and all surfaces where you’ll be preparing food. Store meat in a separate container from any other food items. Steaks should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, ground beef and pork to 160 degrees, and poultry to 165 degrees.

Fireworks Safety

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 230 people on average go to the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries every day in the month leading up to the July Fourth holiday.

“Every July, we see patients with everything from mild burns to explosion-type injuries to shrapnel injuries,” says Hoyt Frenzel, M.D., F.A.C.E.P., F.A.A.E.M. and medical director of the emergency department at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. “We always see some eye injuries from sparklers as well — younger kids and teens horse around with them and get poked or burned in the eye.”

The most injured body parts are the hands and fingers, head, face and ears, and the eyes, accounting for almost 75 percent of fireworks-related injuries. More than 50 percent of the injuries are burns.

To care for a firework burn, wrap it in a clean towel or T-shirt saturated with cool water and get to an emergency room to have the injury checked out.

Stings and Bites

It’s no secret that as we interact with nature, we may also have to interact with its many insects and reptiles, which means from time to time we might get stung or bitten by these animals.

For most people, a bee or wasp sting is nothing more than a painful reminder to maybe look twice at our can of soda or the tree we are about to cut limbs from, but for some it can be life-threatening, and you may not know it until you’ve already been stung.

To be on the safe side, keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you. The pen holds a prescription medication designed to treat severe allergic reactions by tightening the blood vessels and relaxing the airway muscles. One quick jab to the thigh can help slow down a life-threatening allergic response to give you enough time to go to the ER.

To stay free of stinging insects, avoid heavy perfumes, guard food and sugary drinks, and wear lightly colored clothing with no floral prints, because insects are attracted to dark colors and flowers.

If you happen to get stung, some annoying symptoms you might have to deal with are pain, tenderness, itchiness and swelling, but see a doctor or go to the ER immediately when you have symptoms like:

  • Hives, itchiness and swelling over large areas of your body
  • Tightness in the chest or trouble breathing
  • Swelling of the tongue or face
  • Dizziness or feeling you will pass out

Another summertime nuisance Texans are well aware of are snakes. Most snakebites occur during the warmer months when more people are enjoying outdoor activities.

Dr. Heather Beard says to be sure to teach children not to approach or touch a snake and that they should wear boots and pants when hiking or in tall grass, use extra caution around wood piles and rocks, and always assume a snakebite is venomous — be safe, not sorry! If you’re bitten, don’t delay treatment. Call 911 and get medical care as soon as possible.

Following these tips can help you and your family create lifelong memories that don’t include a trip to the ER this summer.

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