If you’ve been outdoors lately, no doubt you’ve observed that Florida’s steamy days of summer have arrived with a vengeance.
You also may have noticed there are a lot more kids riding bicycles in the street, splashing around in pools, and hanging off equipment at the local playground.
The roads are busier, too. Cars and trucks snake toward the beach, and families have packed up to hit the road for vacation. There are a lot more people firing up their backyard grills and having picnics at parks, too.
Summer and its pastimes can offer a pleasant break, but is also can lead to illnesses or injuries, prompting unwanted trips to the local emergency room. There are ways, though, to lower your risk of getting sick or injured.
Three physicians — from Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel and St. Joseph’s Hospital-North — shared their observations about the types of summer injuries that typically arrive at their emergency departments, and they offered suggestions to help people avoid the need for medical care.
On the road
“We see increased motor vehicle accidents,” said Dr. Javier Gonzalez, assistant medical director of the emergency department at the Zephyrhills hospital. Wear a seat belt, he added, because it reduces injuries and save lives.
It’s important to safeguard children, too. Be sure they have the appropriate type of protection, such as car seats or child-restraint chairs, he said. Head injuries tend to increase in the summer, too, because of greater use of bicycles, skateboards and in-line skates, Gonzalez said.
Be sure to wear helmets and make sure they fit properly, he said. Also, be sure the chinstrap is strapped beneath your chin to help protect the side of your head.
Use wrist guards to help prevent injuries, too.
“A lot of these people wear helmets, but when they fall, they put their hands down first, so they get a lot of wrist injuries,” Gonzalez said.
In the water
The importance of water safety cannot be overstated. “In Florida, a lot of people have pools. Make sure they have gates,” Gonzalez said.
Constant vigilance is required when children are in or around water, he added.
“Don’t take a break to get on the phone. I hear that all of the time, ‘I just went out for a second to speak to somebody or to pick up the phone.’ Before they know it, two minutes have passed by and the child is dead at the bottom of the pool.”
At public pools, be sure the child is within view of the lifeguard, Gonzalez said. Drownings at the beach often result from swimmers getting caught in riptides, so be sure to swim across the current, not against it.
“Always wear a life vest, as well, if you are doing activities like jet skiing,” he said. It’s also wise to do so when you’re cruising in a boat.
Besides the potential for drowning accidents, there are other risks associated with the water, Cordero said.
Diving accidents can cause serious neck injuries, she said.
When someone gets hurt diving, it’s important to get them out of the water to make sure they’re breathing, said Dr. Katrina Cordero, associate medical director of the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital–North. Then, make sure they keep their neck still until help arrives.
Enjoying the outdoors
When you’re having a cookout or picnic, pay attention to how long the food has been sitting out, Gonzalez said. Some foods must be refrigerated, and if they are left out too long, it can cause people to become ill.
Store uncooked meats in separate coolers to avoid issues with cross contamination. Also, be sure to thoroughly cook meat and chicken, he said.
All three doctors said drinking water is important to avoid dehydration.
“There’s a misconception that you can actually keep up with your hydration once you’re outside, or once you’re doing the activity,” said Dr. Michael Longley, medical director of the emergency department at the Wesley Chapel hospital. “The reality is you really need to pre-hydrate. Drink a lot either the night before or a couple of hours before you’re going to be outside.
“You’re losing water with every breath you take, you’re losing water with the heat itself. You’re losing water with sweating and you’re losing water with the activity that you’re doing. It’s compounded and there’s just no way to keep up if the tank isn’t full to begin with,” Longley said.
How much you need to drink varies based on your size. An adult should drink a liter or two before they go out. A child should drink about half of that, Longley said.
To help people drink enough water, Longley offers this piece of advice: “I tend to tell kids and adults, alike, to add a little extra salt to their meal. It drives the thirst. It helps the muscle function and it helps you to hold in a little of the water, as well.”
People who suffer from heat cramps, heat stroke and heat exhaustion haven’t hydrated before they go outside, Longley said. Often, people don’t realize how hot they are because they’ve been out in the sun for hours, take a dip and feel a cool breeze.
Sunburn is a problem, too, St. Joe’s Cordero said. People often underestimate the intensity of the sun here.
“They fall asleep on the beach,” she said, and when they wake up, they have painful sunburn.
The same thing can happen when people are out working in the yard and haven’t applied sunscreen, she said. They get busy and forget how much sun exposure they’ve had.
Cordero also offered this tip to avoid becoming dehydrated: Carry a bottle of water or Gatorade around with you, to remind yourself to drink. Some people like to quench their thirst with a beer or another alcoholic drink.
“Beer is OK,” Cordero said. But “don’t let it be your only means of hydration.”
Rockets’ red glare
The increased amount of recreation during summer months tends to result in more people visiting the ER with injuries, Longley said. “We see a lot more broken bones.”
It’s also a time of year when there’s an uptick in fireworks injuries, which are typically unique injuries that require expert medical attention.
“Explosions can cause all sorts of tissue damage locally,” Longley said. “Particles can be inhaled. They can be embedded in the eye.”
The injuries can get complicated quickly.
“Something that seems simple can be way more complex a few hours later,” Longley said.
Sometimes the steps taken immediately after a fireworks injury can make a big difference, Cordero said. If a fingertip is blown off, for example, it’s important to try to find the fingertip, she said. It should be placed in a cloth that has been dampened with water, placed in a plastic bag, and then all put into a larger bag that has some ice in it.
“You don’t want any direct contact with ice,” Cordero said. “That could cause some tissue damage.”
Tips for a safer summer
• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Start drinking water before you head out for the day, and keep drinking it throughout the day to stay hydrated.
• If you’re grilling, be sure to cook your meats thoroughly. Also, do not allow children to be near hot grills.
• If you’re having a gathering, be sure to keep foods that need refrigeration in coolers until shortly before you need them. Keep them away from direct sunlight and don’t leave them out for more than an hour.
• Wear helmets while riding bikes, skateboarding or rollerblading. Wear wrist guards, too.
• Be vigilant when there are children around water. A happy gathering can turn tragic within minutes.
• Wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn. Be sure to reapply it if you decided to take a dip in a pool or at the beach.
• Wear life jackets on boats and seat belts in cars.
Water Safety Tips
Ways to improve safety:
• Never leave a child unattended at a pool or a spa.
• Teach children basic water safety skills.
• Keep children away from pool drains, pipes and other openings.
• Have a telephone nearby to enable a quick call to emergency agencies.
• If a child is missing, check the pool or spa first.
• Learn CPR.
• Install a 4-foot fence around the perimeter of the pool with a self-closing, self-latching gate.
• Having life-saving equipment such as life rings or floats available and easily accessible.
For information, visit PoolSafely.gov.
Published July 9, 2014
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