The summer months are a busy time for trauma centers. Injuries run the gamut from pool accidents to burns. Warm weather brings people outside, but occasionally what they do outside brings them into ER. The biggest risk is not fully appreciating how serious the combination of high temperature and high humidity can be, Dr. Douglas Kupas, ER and EMS Physician at Geisinger, says. You have to pay attention to what you do and be prepared. “We want people to be out and active, but they just have to use common sense. We’d see a lot fewer patients.”
This is a serious problem in the summer, Dr. Kupas says, and many people are admitted to the ER as a result. Heatstroke is a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures. It is especially risky during very hot and humid days and when people are participating in physical activity. The condition can kill or cause damage to the brain if not treated quickly. It’s usually partnered with dehydration and leads to a body temperature of 105 degrees or more. Symptoms include throbbing headache, muscle weakness, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, shallow breath, and seizures.
Water parks can be a breeding ground for bacteria. The biggest danger is gastrointestinal infections, Dr. Kupas says. They are viral, bacterial or parasitic infections that you risk passing on to other people if you are sick and get in the pool. “Practice common sense and good hygiene,” Dr. Kupas says. Just to be on the safe side, don’t drink the water. Even if it’s clear and you can see the bottom of the pool. The same rule applies for lake, river, ocean, sea water – wherever you are swimming.
Many people go on picnics in the summer. The food usually gets left out for hours. The problem is that it takes a very short time in high humidity and heat for bacteria to grow, Dr. Kupas says. Put the food back in coolers after you’re done eating.
You don’t have to be a swimmer to get it, Dr. Kupas says. “You can take a shower in the morning and still get the infection.” If it’s too humid outside, there may be some water residue that doesn’t evaporate, leading to inflammation of the ear canal, which can then cause and irritating and painful infection, he adds. Make sure you dry the ear out; you can use vinegar or OTC drops.
“We do see seasonal increase in car crashes in the summer as kids are out of school, travel and are out and about more, Dr. Kupas says. There is a big increase in motorcycle accidents, especially on weekends and holidays, he adds.
Spikes are common in the summer. People overestimate flotation devices and their own swimming abilities, Dr. Kupas says. The latter is especially common with teenagers, he adds. Young adults underestimate how much alcohol affects them – balance, coordination, and decision-making – leading to accidents.
Avoid jumps in natural waters, Dr. Kupas says. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries. They can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent vegetative state.
Lurking in the fresh-cut grass and beautiful blooms of flowers are insects and other pests, waiting to bite. Most of the time they tend to be just nuisances, Dr. Kupas says. “You can simply get OTC meds to numb the bite site.” You may have a more serious problem if you are allergic to bees and wasps.
If you are outside in wooded areas the risk of a tick carrying Lyme disease latching on increases, Dr. Kupas says. Always examine your entire body to check for ticks, he adds. “If ticks are removed within a day, there is much less of a chance of getting an infection.” Use a bug repellent as well.
It is a common plant that induces rashes and reactions that can easily ruin the enjoyable summer months. There are over-the-counter cortisone creams that can dramatically counteract the oils produced by poison ivy that cause a rash. For moderate and severe cases prescription topical steroids and oral steroids may be necessary.
The most severe ones have large and painful blisters, Dr. Kupas says. “We have to treat them as second degree burns.” This usually happens to people who fall asleep on the beach at the height of the sun. The best advice is to avoid the sun, use sunscreen, and reapply after you get out of the water, he adds. For tender sunburn aloe will help with soothing. “Aspirin will help cure down on the inflammation,” Dr. Kupas says.
Doctors are responsible for identifying possible health problems aside from what the patient has come in for, Dr. Kupas says. When they listen to the heart, lungs, look at face, skin, they have to look for something that doesn’t look typical. And it happens. You may go in for sunburn, but the doctor may notice a strange mole and refer you to a specialist.
“We see many mower injuries, especially as a result of kids being in their parents’ lap,” Dr. Kupas says. Don’t forget to take precautions. Toes, hands, and fingers can easily get caught in the blades if you’re not careful. Lacerations and fractures are common injuries. Wear closed-toed shoes, goggles or at least sunglasses, gloves, and long pants.
Thousands of fires resulting in fatalities, injuries and property damage occur every year. July is the peak month for grill fires. In 2012-2016, an average of 16,600 patients per year went to emergency rooms because of injuries involving grills, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors; grills should be placed away from the home or deck; remove grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill; and always make sure your gas grill lid is open before lighting it.
Just recently Dr. Kupas had a patient who lost a thumb after a firecracker exploded in his hand because he didn’t throw it fast enough. “The patient also now has a partially severed finger. “I see that every year,” he adds.
This is not a big concern in controlled environments such as water parks because there are signs everywhere. However, such warnings are not always present at remote places, creeks, lakes and streams, and, unless you’re a local, you probably don’t know how deep the pool near a cliff really is. “There is a huge risk of spinal cord injuries,” Dr. Kupas says.
Sun damage can contribute to the development of cataracts and other eye problems. UVA rays are particularly damaging to your eyes; they can damage the macula, the part of your retina responsible for central vision, according to The Eye Institute. Also, melanoma and basal cell cancers can develop on your eyelids.