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By Alex Forkner
Memorial Day weekend ushers in the summer season and a time of family fun, but lurking behind the barbeques and backyard baseball is the increased risk of seasonal injuries.
Ryan Stanton, emergency director at UK HealthCare’s Good Samaritan Hospital and assistant professor of emergency medicine in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said summertime emergency room visits surge, with cases stemming from increased heat, food-borne illness and recreational accidents.
To stay safe in the heat, Stanton said it’s important to keep the fluids flowing.
“You need to stay hydrated,” he said. “That’s the real key to temperature control is staying well hydrated with water. Alcohol doesn’t count. It can actually make the problem worse.”
It’s also helpful to wear light colored, loose fitting clothing to help the heat from sunlight dissipate. Dark colored clothes trap sunlight and raise the wearer’s body temperature. Getting out of the sun and resting in the air conditioning or a shady, breezy place for periods of time will also prevent heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses.
People at higher risk for heat-related injuries should be checked on regularly to make sure no problems develop.
“Young kids—babies especially—and the elderly are at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses [developing] faster and with fewer symptoms,” Stanton said.
“Mainly kids because they have a huge body surface area and a lot of time we overdress them, even in the summer. For the adults, mainly because they tend to have increased medical problems and they have a decreased ability to cope with temperature, usually because of medications, so the elderly need to be watched as well. That’s important in homes and apartments in our area that won’t have air conditioning or will lose air conditioning, so we need to keep an eye out and be good stewards,” Stanton added.
Parents with younger children should be vigilant in making sure kids are not left in vehicles.
“For those with young kids, be very, very careful around vehicles. Closed in vehicles will get up to 120, 140 150 degrees within minutes of the engine being turned off,” Stanton said. “When kids are facing forward it’s a lot easier to remember them; when they can yell and scream and throw things all through the car, it’s always a lot easier to remember. But when you have little babies who are facing backwards, sometimes it’s hard to see and hard to remember.”
Stanton said even the slightest change in routine can cause a parent to make the “honest mistake” of leaving a child in a closed vehicle. To guard against this, he recommends keeping a physical object, such as a string or a bell, tied to a finger or wrist to serve as a reminder.
“[Another] thing we recommend for people who have stuff with them is always put your stuff in the back seat,” he said. “That way, when you have to get out, you can open the door to get that stuff and your going to see the child. Anyway you can do that reminder will be beneficial and hopefully prevent the tragedy, because it happens so quickly and it’s so devastating to everyone around.”
Another potential problem during the summer months of patio parties and picnics is the food poisoning. When not prepared or stored properly, certain foods become breeding grounds for E. coli and salmonella.
“Things like potato salad and egg salad that have a lot of mayonnaise in them are a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and really make people sick. So we’ll see whole families going into the ER just sicker than dogs because they ate a little bit of that bad egg salad that’s been sitting out all day.”
Letting foods sit in warm weather increases the risk of contamination, Stanton said.
“They need to be served, they need to be eaten right away and if they’re not going to be eaten in a timely fashion then it needs to be stored in an appropriate fashion in a refrigerator or someplace that’s temperature controlled in order to prevent the risk of foodborne infection, and those really do spike at this time of year.”
To avoid ending up in a trauma center this summer, Stanton encouraged recreationalists to avoid mixing activity with alcohol.
“With people getting out and about, doing a lot more outdoor things, we see a lot of spikes in trauma, whether it’s motor vehicle collisions, whether it’s ATVs, motorcycles, boating related—all those,” he said. “So, our recommendations from that: travel safety, obeying the laws, keep your seatbelts on, never drink and drive—that’s the biggest one by far. Again, anytime you’re on a lake or on a jet ski or something like that, no drinking while doing that. They are just as dangerous and we see a lot of drunk-while-boating accidents here at the trauma center as well.”
While maintaining a yard or garden, it is vital to use tools in proper repair and to use common sense when dealing with any machinery.
“Don’t reach under a lawn mower; that seems like common sense, but we see that every single year,” Stanton said. “We’ll probably have a half-dozen to a dozen people who reach under a lawnmower, thinking that it’s not spinning or they’ve just gotten lackadaisical and reached under there without thinking about it.”
Stanton also said children should not work with any fast moving machinery until they are old enough, at least a teenager or young adult.
Monitoring children when playing outside is critical, especially around water.
“Anytime you’re around water make sure someone is dedicated to watching that water—whether it’s a pool, whether it’s a stream, whether it’s a lake—watching it for the children and anyone that’s around it,” Stanton said.
If there is no one to watch a pool, make sure no children have access to avoid any accidents.
“You need to have a fence all the way around it, the gate needs to be closed and locked, because once a child gets in there and falls in the water, you only have about 2 to 3 minutes before it’s going to be too late. Anytime, if you have a pool, if a child goes missing or you’re looking for them, always check the pool first. That needs to be the first place you look, not the last. If there’s a chance to catch somebody after they’ve fallen in, you need to do that as quickly as possible.”
Teaching children to swim at an early age can help prevent such occurrences.
Always make sure children are playing in safe areas—not open roads—while riding bikes, skateboards, etc. Protective equipment should be worn at all times, especially helmets.
“I know kids are going to hem and haw, and they may say they’re only going to be on for a minute, but it only takes one time falling off a bike and hitting their head before they could have permanent brain damage or even death, so they need to have their helmet on all the time,” Stanton said.
Whether at work or at play this summer, make sure safety is a top priority. It’s hard to enjoy the sunshine from a hospital bed or, even worse, a casket.
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