Staying safe while beating the heat
By Susan Tulino
Sweet, sweet summertime. For kids and teenagers, summer break means three months of glorious freedom from homework, studying and early wake up calls. Adults and kids alike hear “summer” and think of vacations, pool parties, grilling out and general time outside — what’s not to like, right? Well, as the saying goes, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
Karla Lacayo, MD, an emergency medicine provider at Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center, discusses some of the injuries emergency departments see during the summer months and tips for preventing them.
No kid wants to be stuck in a cast in the summer heat, but according to Dr. Lacayo, some of the most frequently treated summer injuries are for sports-related accidents. Kids and families are outside riding bikes, skateboards and hoverboards (yes, hoverboard injuries have skyrocketed in recent years). Those who aren’t paying attention or riding without protective gear put themselves at high risk for accidents and injuries.
“As soon as summer rolls around, we treat a large number of broken bones, contusions and head injuries,” said Dr. Lacayo. “It’s important to wear helmets and knee/elbow pads, obey the rules of the road and be aware of your surroundings.”
Speaking of being aware of your environment, check the forecast before heading outside.
“When temperatures hit 90-plus degrees, we advise people to ease into physical activity and make sure they stay hydrated with not only water, but also electrolyte replacement fluids,” said Dr. Lacayo. “Even with increased intake of fluids, intense physical activity in extreme temperatures can be dangerous. Nausea, headaches, dizziness and cramping are all signs that you should slow down.”
In some instances, heat exhaustion and dehydration can warrant visits to the emergency room. Heat strokes, however, always require immediate medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include vomiting, confusion, hallucinations and gait imbalance.
Though not necessarily an injury, Dr. Lacayo also notes that emergency departments treat more symptoms and diseases related to bug bites in the warmer months, when insect populations thrive.
“Virginia is an endemic area for Lyme disease. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately and monitor the area for rashes, which are an early sign of Lyme disease. We also see cases of the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus every summer. Get in the habit of applying insect repellent when you’re outside, especially in wooded or grassy areas, or near water sources,” said Dr. Lacayo.
If you experience vomiting, difficulty breathing, fever or a rash after contact with an insect, visit the nearest emergency room immediately.
Fireworks and grilling out are fun ways to celebrate Independence Day. Unfortunately, unsafe behaviors also make them two of the biggest causes of emergency room visits for burn treatment.
“People set off fireworks and sparklers to celebrate the Fourth of July and sadly, we usually see a few cases of children with burns.” said Dr. Lacayo. “It’s also a big holiday for grilling, so we also see injuries from improper grill use or accidental contact with the hot surface.”
For your safety, and the safety of others, neither fireworks nor grills should be used under the influence of alcohol.
Dr. Lacayo also advises avoiding alcohol around water.
Though she says drowning incidents are relatively infrequent, being near the water in an intoxicated or drowsy state puts people at higher risk for drowning or other injuries. Boats, jet skis, water skis or other water-sport equipment should never be operated after you’ve been drinking.
The old folk wisdom that says, “don’t swim for 30 minutes after you eat,” isn’t entirely factual. Light snacking before swimming is generally well tolerated, Dr. Lacayo confirmed, but heavy meals that could cause cramping or drowsiness should be avoided or given plenty of time to digest.
Summer is a fun time of year, but it comes with its share of risks. Spend more time enjoying the season and less time in the emergency room by making safety and preparedness a priority this summer.
For more information about Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center’s emergency department please visit novanthealthuva.org.