From softball leagues to sandy beaches, summer has almost endless opportunities for fun and recreation. But the rise in outdoor activities can also translate to an increase in injuries.
Being alert to potential health hazards can reduce the chance you might wind up in an urgent care center or emergency room, without taking all of the excitement and enjoyment out of your summer fun.
Injuries can run the gamut from minor muscle pulls, strains and aches to life-threatening heat stroke. Kelsey-Seybold family medicine physician Dr. Christine Le stressed the importance of monitoring symptoms of heat illness. Given the Houston area’s intense summer heat, they can be among the most frequent seriously dangerous health hazards.
“It’s hot this summer. Let’s prevent heat illness,” she said.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, sweaty skin, weak pulse, nausea, vomiting or fainting.
“Cool down quickly with water ASAP,” Dr. Le said. “This (heat exhaustion) might lead to something more serious — heat stroke.”
Heat stroke symptoms include a dangerously high internal temperature of 103 and above, dry skin, strong pulse and unconsciousness.
“Heat stroke is an emergency, so call 911. Do not give fluids,” Dr. Le said.
Among the most important precautions people should take are to drink plenty of water and other fluids to stay hydrated, and to be consistently vigilant about protecting your skin against damage from excess sun exposure.
Hydration is one of the easiest and most important measures.
“Stay hydrated and cool,” she said. “Drink when you are thirsty. Drink more when you are outside in the heat. If you exercise, drink 8 to 12 ounces of water 10 to 15 minutes prior to exercise. And drink 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes when you are exercising.”
Dehydration can turn disastrous. A warning sign can be if you haven’t had enough to drink during activities and suddenly feel dizzy and lightheaded. Dry mouth is another symptom. These occur when you haven’t taken in enough fluids to replace those you sweat out.
Dehydration can occur any time of year, but it is much more common in the summer. In addition to drinking plenty of fluids, take regular breaks in the shade or a cool spot. When possible, schedule the most strenuous outdoor activities in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s heat isn’t at its peak.
Protection from the sun is also easy and important. In essence, it’s best to cover skin with clothes or sunscreen.
Despite increased information about skin cancer and evidence that sunburn damage increases the risk for melanoma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of adults nationwide who got at least one sunburn during the preceding year rose from 31.8 percent in 1999 to 33.7 percent in 2004.
“Cover up with hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants,” Dr. Le said. “Buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 and re-apply often. Apply sunscreen prior to any bug spray. Any skin color change — tan or sunburn — means sun damage and increases the risk of future skin cancer.”
Summer can bug you
Bug bites and stings can cause more than momentary pain; for some people, they can be extremely dangerous. Medical experts advise everyone to take them seriously. About three in 100 adults in the U.S. have potentially life-threatening allergies to insect stings, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. And many people aren’t aware they have these allergies until they’ve been stung.
To help prevent bug bites, Dr. Le recommends avoid being outside at dusk and dawn when possible. Also, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants can minimize exposure. Empty any standing water in pet bowls and trash cans that can attract bugs or be a breeding ground. Use EPA-registered bug spray that contains DEET, Picaridin, or lemon eucalyptus oil, and re-apply it often. Dr. Le added that when used as directed, EPA-registered insect repellents are safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Most people who get stung experience temporary pain, tenderness, itchiness and swelling at the sting site. But see a doctor or go to urgent care or the ER if you experience hives, itchiness and swelling over large areas of your body; tightness in the chest or trouble breathing; swelling of the tongue or face; or dizziness, or a feeling you will pass out.
Caution around the water
Dr. Le also stresses extreme caution with water activities.
“Don’t swim alone. And watch those babies and toddlers; they can drown in less than 1 inch of water,” Dr. Le said. “Be careful of those sinks and bathtubs, swimming pools, wading pools, even buckets of water.”
Boating accidents, too, are a source of serious summer accidents and injuries. According to the CDC, drinking alcohol and not wearing properly fitted life jackets factor into many boating injuries and fatalities.
Even around the house
Summer and yard work go hand in glove. Especially with the Houston area’s above-average rainfall, yards demand more attention this time of year. Homeowners who mow their own lawns can be exposed to lawn mower injuries. Reports of hand and foot injuries increase during the summer months.
Those injuries can result from someone reaching near a spinning blade to clear a clog or inadvertently pulling a mower too close to your foot. Manual and push mowers can also produce muscle pulls and strains. And power mowers can fling objects such as rocks and sticks, which can cause injuries to anyone in the projectile’s path. Hospitals annually report serious lawn mower injuries.
A couple of practical safety tips include wearing closed-toed shoes — preferably with a steel toe — and eye protection. Wearing long pants can also provide protection from flying debris. Keep children away from power mowers while in operation, and don’t allow them on a riding mower.