When the weather warms up in Texas, kids and adults alike can’t get outside fast enough. And after spending the last few months inside, your summer plans may include more outdoor time than ever before. But no one ever expects to spend time in the ER.
“Summertime is when we get excited about doing our favorite outdoor activities such as boating, biking, cookouts and vacations, just to name a few. Unfortunately, summer is also a critical time for injuries,” says Kimberly McFarland, M.S.N., R.N., the trauma injury prevention coordinator at Texas Health Fort Worth.
Here are a few injuries seen frequently during the summer months and some ways to keep them from turning your fun in the sun into a trip to the ER.
Whether it’s building a fort in the backyard, playing a little game of catch or simply just trying to keep up with the Joneses, summer calls for a nicely mowed patch of grass, which unfortunately lands some people in the ER.
McFarland states that while you may not suspect it, unfortunately, lawnmower injuries do happen. But there are easy steps you can take to prevent them by wearing proper equipment such as goggles, long pants and sleeves, and proper footwear. Do not wear flip-flops or go barefoot while mowing.
McFarland also advises to keep children a safe distance away from the area being mowed and never allow them to be passengers on a riding lawnmower. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be at least 12 years of age before operating a push lawnmower and 16 years of age before operating a riding lawnmower.
“We all know that background pools are dangerous, but a lake is even more unpredictable due to the unclear waters which can ultimately lead to injury,” says Stephen Rush, M.D., a trauma and critical care surgeon at Texas Health Fort Worth.
In 2018, there were 204 boating accidents in Texas, resulting in 85 injuries and 35 fatalities. Of those fatalities, nearly 84 percent of the victims were not wearing a life jacket.
One of the main culprits of boating accidents is alcohol. More than half of all people injured in a boating accident consumed alcohol beforehand, and 19 percent don’t live to tell the tale, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Drinking and boating is a recipe for disaster,” Rush adds.
To keep your family safe on the lake, never swim alone and never rely on toys like inner tubes and water wings to stay afloat.
With that in mind, integrate a buddy system and designate at least one adult to keep an eye on everyone who is in the water, especially children. According to the CDC, drowning victims rarely call for help or wave their arms, making drowning a silent killer. It’s also a fast killer. Within three minutes, or the time it takes you to reapply sunscreen or grab your phone, most people become unconscious.
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, everyone should wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device (PFD) when boating, and all children under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket. Unlike pool toys and water wings, these devices are designed to keep swimmers safely floating about the water.
When you’re having so much fun outdoors, it’s hard to remember to take a water break or sit in the shade for a bit to cool down. Unfortunately, not drinking more fluids than you’re sweating out or being in the direct sun for too long can lead to dehydration or heat stroke.
The first signs of dehydration include extreme thirst, little or no urination, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, rapid breathing and heartbeat, and fever.
Since heatstroke is the most severe form of dehydration, it’s important to manage your dehydration once you notice the first signs.
Heatstroke is when your internal temperature rises to dangerously high levels, similar to having a very high fever. Symptoms of heatstroke are the absence of sweating despite the temperature outside and your level of activity, skin that is hot to the touch, hallucinations, fainting, or seizures.
Preventing both is simple: Drink plenty of water; take regular breaks, preferably in the shade; and plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is not as high in the sky.
If you suspect someone is suffering from a severe form of dehydration or heatstroke, bring them indoors, have them lie down, and cool them off with ice packs and cool cloths as someone else calls 911.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. and affects more than 2 million people each year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the number of women under age 40 diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma has more than doubled in the last 30 years.
Patrick Keehan, D.O, a dermatologist and physician on the medical staff at Keehan Dermatology, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, says sunscreen application should be a part of your daily routine, no matter what season it is.
To properly cover your body you would need enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass. If applied correctly and reapplied every two to four hours, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 stops about 97 percent of UVB rays and SPF 50 obstructs 98 percent of UVB rays.
And ladies, just because your foundation may have an SPF rating, it doesn’t mean you can skimp on the sunscreen, since most women don’t apply enough makeup to get the full protective effect.
For a product with an SPF rating of 20, a light coating may only provide protection equivalent to a 10. So make sure you’re applying a sunscreen first, then applying your makeup.
Cookouts and picnics are popular in the summer, which can pose the potential for food to reach unsafe temperatures.
Food poisoning puts countless people in the hospital every year, hitting its peak in the summer months. To be safe, use a food thermometer when cooking to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. After everyone has eaten, also make sure to put items in the refrigerator or an adequately cold cooler within two hours of serving.
To keep food poisoning from ruining your cookout or family gathering, the U.S Department of Agriculture advises to thoroughly wash your hands and all surfaces where you’ll be preparing food. Store meat in a separate container from any other food items. Steaks should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, ground beef and pork to 160 degrees, and poultry to 165 degrees.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 180 people on average go to the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries every day in the month leading up to the July Fourth holiday.
“Every July we see injuries from fireworks, ranging from mild burns to more serious injuries from explosions with shrapnel type injuries,” Rush explains. “These injuries cover all age groups from children to adults. If you can, leave it to the experts and just sit back and enjoy the show.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than one-third of fireworks-related injuries occurred among children 14 years or younger, with children ages 10 to 14 holding the highest rate of injury among adolescents.
The most injured body parts are the hands and fingers, head, face and ears, and the eyes, accounting for 62% percent of fireworks-related injuries. More than 44% percent of the injuries are burns. To care for a firework burn, wrap it in a clean towel or T-shirt saturated with cool water and get to an emergency room to have the injury checked out.
Stings and Bites
It’s no secret that as we interact with nature, we may also have to interact with its many insects and reptiles, which means from time to time we might get stung or bitten by these animals.
For most people, a bee or wasp sting is nothing more than a painful reminder to maybe look twice at our can of soda or the tree we are about to cut limbs from, but for some it can be life-threatening, and you may not know it until you’ve already been stung.
To be on the safe side, keep an epinephrine auto-injector with you. The pen holds a prescription medication designed to treat severe allergic reactions by tightening the blood vessels and relaxing the airway muscles. One quick jab to the thigh can help slow down a life-threatening allergic response to give you enough time to go to the ER.
To stay free of stinging insects, avoid heavy perfumes, guard food and sugary drinks, and wear lightly colored clothing with no floral prints, because insects are attracted to dark colors and flowers.
If you happen to get stung, some annoying symptoms you might have to deal with are pain, tenderness, itchiness and swelling, but see a doctor or go to the ER immediately when you have symptoms like:
- Hives, itchiness and swelling over large areas of your body
- Tightness in the chest or trouble breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or face
- Dizziness or feeling you will pass out
Another summertime nuisance Texans are well aware of is snakes. Most snakebites occur during the warmer months when more people are enjoying outdoor activities.
Robert Gullinese, M.D., an emergency physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Fort Worth, offers up these tips for how to avoid getting bitten by a snake plus what to do if you’re bitten.
Things you can do to avoid getting bitten by a snake:
- Stay away from tall grass, piles of leaves, wood, and rocks when possible
- Wear boots and long pants when working outdoors
- Wear leather gloves when handling brush and debris.
- Be aware that snakes tend to be active at night and in warm weather.
If you get bitten by a snake:
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local EMS)
- Stay calm
- Try to remember the characteristics of the snake: color and shape
- Try to capture or kill a snake or bring it to the hospital
- Try to suck out venom or cut the wound with a knife
- Apply a tourniquet
Many families are opting for road trips over air travel this summer, which means more drivers sharing the road. Texas has over 80,000 miles of maintained roads and highways, which makes driving a great mode of transportation to and from all the landmarks and destinations the state has to offer, but all that time on the road this summer can come with its own Texas-sized dose of hazards, one of those being distracted driving.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 1,117 fatal crashes on Texas roads between May and August 2018. Of those crashes, 688 were on an interstate or U.S. and state highways.
McFarland states, “before heading out on a long road trip have your vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic to ensure it’s in safe working condition. Have your travel route planned and always buckle up. Do not operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Also, be aware of distractions while driving”.
Following these tips can help you and your family create lifelong memories that don’t include a trip to the ER this summer.