Hospital offers tips for staying safe when summer sizzles
Unzip your fur-lined parka. Stow away the sleds and skis. Take the snow tires off your car.
New England's warm weather season has arrived, driving sunshine-deprived Northerners outside to soak up some rays. But with the joys that come from hot days and outdoor fun come some hazards that are worth paying attention to.
Dr. Manish Vig, medical director of Holyoke Medical Center's Department of Emergency Medicine, says common sense and a smidgen of knowledge can help keep people safe when the temperatures rise.
It's a fact that emergency room (ER) visits rise significantly in the summer, according to the National Health Statistics Reports, issued by the Centers for Disease Control.
It's the sun itself that can cause the most common summer distress, Vig said.
"We see our fair share of sunburns during the summer," he said. People do head to the emergency room for severe sunburns, Vig said. The treatment is relatively limited cool, moist towels and aspirin to ease the pain. In the case of sunburn, prevention is essential.
Use sun block. Limit exposure. Wear clothing to protect you from the rays of the sun, especially if you plan on being outdoors for a significant amount of time.
Another kind of burn is also more prevalent in the summer burns from barbecue grills, Vig said. Many times, careless disposal of hot coals, believed to be cooler than they are, is the culprit. With the more elaborate grills that have a burner attached, the cook or even a spectator can suffer a serious burn when boiling water splashes on them, he said. Propane tanks can be another hazard, Vig said, especially if they have not been maintained in awhile.
But it's the heat of the summer that more often causes people to suffer in the summer.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are relatively common problems in the summer, particularly for people who spend hours outside. Many people confuse the two, Vig said. Of the conditions, heat stroke is the more serious and far less common.
Again, prevention is key.
"If it's a hot and humid day, unless you have to be doing a specific activity, like your job, don't do it," Vig said. Wait until the humidity and temperature drop.
When it's hot outside, it's critical to stay hydrated and well-nourished. Having adequate complex carbohydrates and protein, so that the body has enough nutrition to draw upon, is crucial.
"If you go out to golf at 8 a.m. without eating breakfast, you're chancing heat exhaustion," Vig said. "With the days being longer, don't feel like you always have to rush."
One of the early signs of heat exhaustion is being in a hot environment, not sweating or experiencing confusion. "Go home and get into air conditioning, have something to eat and drink," Vig said. "If you have to be outside, like construction workers, stay hydrated; take breaks in a cool environment and stay adequately nourished."
The warning signs of heat stroke are: extremely high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin; rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache; dizziness; nausea; confusion; and ultimately unconsciousness. Anyone experiencing those symptoms should head straight to the emergency room.
Being outdoors means an increased chance of being bitten by an animal or an insect. Pets are outside more, and people are more likely to be bitten either by the pet or by fleas, ticks or other insects.
With all the information about Lyme disease locally, people here are more inclined to understand the implications of being bitten, particularly by ticks. "We encourage people to use DEET-based repellents, bug sprays," Vig said. "They are safe for children, the elderly and women who are pregnant."
When the sun gets high in the sky, hopping on a bicycle is a great way to get exercise and enjoyment. Fortunately, more people wear helmets while bicycling than in the past in order to lessen the chance of head injuries. American bicyclists Greg Lemond in the 1980s and Lance Armstrong more recently made helmet use skyrocket, along with increasing the popularity of the sport, Vig said.