On Your Health

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Stay Summer Safe: How to Keep Hot Weather Fun from Turning Hazardous

Summer is coming! Sunshine, outdoor fun, gatherings and celebrations, picnics, swimming and so much more are coming with it.

It’s easy to have fun in the summer; it can be equally easy for things to go awry and for people to get hurt. Let’s avoid summer maladies and injuries. With just a little bit of forethought, you can add a nice thick layer of safety to the season.


Here are some summer saboteurs and what to do about preventing and treating them.

Dehydration happens when your body takes in less fluid thank it puts out, and low fluid levels affect the body’s ability to carry out its normal functions. Dehydration is most dangerous for children and older folks. In addition to sipping plenty of water, you can up your hydration with what you eat. Many foods contain lots of hydration-boosting water. Sneak these into your diet for an extra liquid boost.   

Heat cramps are sharp, painful cramps that strike during or after exercise in extreme heat. The thought is that the loss of fluids and salts via sweat causes muscles to cramp. They affect arms, legs and stomach/abs most often. Mitigate them by staying hydrated. When cramps strike, rest in a cool place, sip a sports drink and gently massage the cramping muscles. Heat cramps alone are not dangerous, but they may be the first sign of more serious heat illness. 

Heat exhaustion. This happens when (you guessed it) someone in a hot environment hasn’t taken in enough fluids. Symptoms may include a rapid pulse and heavy sweating. Other symptoms can include cool skin, dizziness, nausea, headache, muscle cramps and fatigue. Think you’ve got heat exhaustion? Move to a cooler location, sip cool water or a sports drink and rest. If things don’t improve within an hour, check in with your doctor or visit an urgent care.

Heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency.  It happens when the body loses its ability to regulate its own temperature, potentially reaching 106 degrees Fahrenheit or greater within 15 minutes. Sweat glands malfunction and stop producing sweat, the temperature rises quickly and death or disability become imminent dangers. Symptoms include slurred speech or confusion; coma; profuse sweating or hot, dry skin; seizures and very high body temps. This is an emergency. Call 911 and move the person to a shaded area. Cool them with ice packs or an ice bath, or a fan. Stay with them until emergency help arrives.

Sunburn. The best way to deal with sunburn is to avoid it in the first place. Use UVA/UVB-blocking sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater and reapply as directed. At best, sunburn is uncomfortable for a few days and can be treated with cool compresses, pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen and anti-itch cream. At worst, it can cause skin damage, and multiple burns over time can lead to skin cancer. Sunburn can take a few days to fully develop. If you’ve got small blisters (smaller than your pinky fingernail), don’t pop them. If you’ve got large blisters, call your doctor. These may need to be removed. Be on the lookout for signs of infection and seek medical care if you notice blisters with pus or red streaks or if you experience confusion, nausea, fever or chills. 

Poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. These plants thrive in areas hikers and campers love, and they can irritate you even if you don’t touch them directly, for example, if your backpack brushes against a plant and then you touch your backpack. The rash you develop is caused by an allergic reaction to a plant oil called urushiol, and it doesn’t take much: 50 micrograms of the stuff (an amount smaller than a grain of salt) is enough to cause trouble. The rash will go away within a week or two. Anti-itch creams like calamine lotion can help, as can antihistamines. If it’s bad enough, your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid. The best way to avoid poison ivy, oak or sumac is to know what they look like and steer clear.

Poison ivy leaves have three leaflets. It’s green in the summer, red in the spring and orangey red in the fall. Remember: Leaves of three, let them be. Poison oak also has three leaflets per leaf, but they’ve got rounded tips. They’re fuzzy on the underside, and poison oak looks like a shrub. Poison sumac looks like a small tree (or a tall shrub). Its leaves have clusters of 7-13 leaflets, arranged in pairs. Poison sumac also has droopy clusters of green berries.

Bike wrecks. Hopping on your bike to go get an ice cream is one of summer’s great joys. Hitting a curb or dodging cat and wiping out are decidedly less fun. Scrapes and scratches are one thing, but a head injury is something potentially catastrophic – and preventable. In addition to wearing a well-fitting bike helmet certified by the Consumer Safety Commission, it’s a good idea to wear bright, even neon, colors to help drivers see you. Reflective tape or flashing safety lights are also a good idea. Keep your eyes on the road and have a good time!

Bonfires. In your mind’s eye, you’re all gathered around a beautiful bonfire, roasting marshmallows and laughing. Bonfires are open fires, though which can be unpredictable and dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, thousands of people end up in the emergency room with bonfire-related burns every year, so if build a bonfire you must, proceed with caution. Check the weather – high winds and bonfires don’t mix. Be sure to clear flammable brush or debris from the area. Make sure you’ve got a full bucket of water and a hose at the ready. Start the fire with kindling such as newspaper rather than charcoal lighter fluid. Never use gasoline, diesel fuel or kerosene to start or fuel a fire. No horseplay around a fire! Keep your bonfire on the small AKA manageable size. Make sure the fire is completely out when you’re done. Stir the ashes and soak them with water; burn centers treat multiple people annually who have accidentally walked barefoot over hot ashes.

On the water. A staggering 400,000 Americans dies each year from swimming. Drowning can happen silently and quickly, so make sure you set clear ground rules with children, insist on them wearing Coast Guard approved life jackets if they cannot swim, and do not take your eyes off of them. Adult deaths associated with water recreation also tend to involve alcohol. Further, 80 percent of those who’ve died in boating accidents weren’t wearing life jackets. Take appropriate precautions for yourself and our kids, watch your alcohol intake and have fun!  

DIY Home Injuries. We love a good weekend project as much as the next person. The satisfaction of a job well done, a new skill learned, money saved on repairs or all of the above can be really rewarding. Stay safe by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as goggles, gloves, a face mask or even a helmet, depending on what you’re up to. Climbing high? How about a safety harness? Using a sharp saw? Wear thick leather work gloves. 

Food Poisoning. Summer picnics mean breezy meals enjoyed with family and friends. If we’re not careful, they can also mean foodborne illnesses, caused by eating contaminated foods. Fun fact: foods prepared with mayonnaise are not more likely to cause illness. What does cause illness are infectious organisms like bacteria, viruses and parasites, and their toxins. Symptoms from food poisoning usually begin a few hours after ingestion, and include nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Let’s avoid that! The CDC offers these tips:

Keep foods cool. Raw meats, poultry and seafood should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. After cooking, store leftovers in the freezer or fridge within an hour. Cook meat thoroughly – to 145 degrees for beef. Pork or fish; 160 degrees for ground meat and burgers; 165 degrees for turkey or chicken and if you’re using a smoker, keep its internal temp at 225 degrees or higher.

Don’t cross-contaminate. Wash all fruits and vegetables, wash hands before and after handling raw meat, clean work surfaces and utensils or use separate ones for meats and fruits/veggies. Put cooked meats and other foods on a clean plate – don’t re-use the platter you used for pre-cooked meats. Toss marinades (or cook the heck out of them) after use. When in doubt, throw it out. 


For more lifestyle and wellness content, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.


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