The sun’s out…and that means the doctor is in!

As the temperatures sizzle and the days get longer, HCA Healthcare hospitals see a spike in emergency room visits during the summer months. In healthcare, the three-month period following spring is often referred to as “trauma season”.

Summertime encourages most to get outside and participate in outdoor activities, heightening susceptibility to preventable injuries and illnesses. The sunny season almost doubles the number of accidents that physicians see in children, adult injuries climb nearly 25%.

The good news is that most of these summer health hazards can be avoided by taking simple precautions.

Here is HCA Healthcare’s roundup of the most common summer health risks and what you can do to avoid them!

Summer health hazard #1: campfires, grills and fireworks

Summer is a time for campfires and fireworks. But, it can also be a time for serious burn injuries. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, on average 280 people per day visit the emergency room with fireworks-related injuries around the Fourth of July holiday.

Sparklers burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as a blowtorch, and account for nearly one-third of all firework injuries.

Dr. Fred Mullins, medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at affiliate Doctors Hospital is no stranger to the spike in patients during summertime months.

We often see injuries to the hands and face due to fireworks exploding prematurely, says Dr. Mullins. These injuries range from minor flash burns to severe traumatic injuries.  

Dr. Mullins sheds light on what to do if a burn injury occurs.

In case of injury

Dr. Fred Mullins; Doctors Hospital (Augusta, GA)

If you are a bystander to a burn injury, the first thing to do is to stop the burning process by removing the victim from the source. If the source is electric, make sure the current is turned off to avoid additional injuries. Call 9-1-1 for medical assistance if needed.

To help treat the injury, run room temperature water over the wound and wrap in a clean, dry cloth.  Ice, though it may feel good, should not be applied to burned skin as it can make the burn worse.

For minor burn injuries, a topical ointment such as bacitracin or double antibiotic ointment may be beneficial immediately to protect against infection. Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are appropriate for minor burns. If you are concerned about the injury or if there is blistering or skin-sloughing, medical care should be sought.

Prevention and safety tips

Fireworks

  • Create a “blast zone” away from structures, people, dry grass and other flammable items.
  • Designate an adult as the safety person, another adult as the “shooter” and someone to be in charge of keeping children clear of the “blast zone”. Let children enjoy the show, not be part of it.
  • Ensure a fire extinguisher, hose or bucket of water is nearby.
  • Make sure the “shooter” is sober, not wearing loose clothing that could ignite, and follows all directions on the fireworks label.
  • If the device does not have a warning and/or instructions label, do not fire it.
  • Never use fireworks of any kind indoors.
  • Light fireworks one at a time.
  • Never throw fireworks. A malfunctioning fuse could cause the item to go off in your hand.
  • Never light fireworks held in someone’s hand.
  • Never stand over an item that does not fire.

Campfire/Grill

  • Use grills only in properly ventilated areas, as the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires increases if grilling in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Never use an accelerant such as gasoline to light a grill, campfire or debris pile. Gas fumes can ignite and cause a large explosion.
  • Never, ever use a match to check for gas leaks. Find leaks by spraying soapy water on gas line connections. If you see water bubbles, there is a leak.
  • Dispose of hot coals properly: Soak with water, then stir and soak again to make sure the fire is out.
  • Always shut off the propane tank valve when not in use.
  • Never try to light a gas grill with the lid closed.
  • Always wear short sleeves and/or tight-fitting clothing while grilling.
  • Use utensils with long handles to stay clear of hot surfaces.

Summer health hazard #2: sun poisoning

Most of us have experienced the pain of a sunburn. But “sun poisoning” takes discomfort to a whole new level.

Basically, sun poisoning is a bad sunburn, says Dr. David Mulholland a family medicine physician with affiliate Mission Health. It’s an inflammatory reaction to sun damage of the skin that can make you feel like you have the flu caused by excessive exposure to the sun and its UV rays, Dr. Mulholland adds.

When does a sunburn become sun poisoning? Symptoms may include severe dark redness of the skin, blistering and rapid peeling of the skin, and pain and itching with swelling of the affected skin, said Dr. Mulholland. Sun poisoning can also cause dehydration, headaches, fever and chills, dizziness and lightheadedness with nausea.

In case of injury

Dr. David Mulholland; Mission Health (Clyde, NC)

The best treatment for sun poisoning is to get out of the sun, advises Dr. Mulholland. Take ibuprofen and stay well hydrated; you can also use soothing skin lotions and gels such as aloe.

Also, be aware of any drugs you’re currently taking may produce an adverse sun reaction. Certain medications can cause a sensitivity to UV radiation, such as thiazide diuretics, tetracycline-type antibiotics, certain NSAIDs, and antibiotics like fluoroquinolones and sulfonamides, said Dr. Mulholland.

If sun poisoning symptoms are severe or persist, seek medical attention.

And, don’t underestimate the danger of sun exposure. The sun is very likely the most carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agent that most people will encounter regularly throughout their lives, notes Dr. Mulholland.

Prevention and safety tips

  • Limit sun exposure, particularly when UV rays are strongest (10 am – 4 pm)
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with 30+ SPF; generously cover areas such as the nose, ears and neck; and reapply every two hours or more frequently when in water
  • Wear hats and clothing with SPF protection
  • Know the potential sun interactions of your medications

Summer health hazard #3: poison ivy, oak and sumac

Poison ivy contains a toxic clear liquid compound in its sap called urushiol that causes itching and skin rashes.

From hiking to picnicking, summer is a great time to be outside. But beware of pesky plants that can cause a terrible rash. Rashes like these affect as many as 50 million Americans annually.

The best defense for poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac rash is to become familiar with the appearance of the plants that cause it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers tips on plant identification here.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85% of people who touch poison ivy, sumac and oak develop a rash.

The rash can start to appear within a few hours after exposure, said Dr. Mulholland. The rash may also take days to weeks before signs start to appear, he adds. In most cases, blisters start to appear with severe itching within three to four hours. Typically, the rash will last anywhere from one to three weeks.

The rash is usually red, blistering and very itchy. It usually appears in a linear, streaked pattern as the leaves usually brush against the skin, explains Dr. Mulholland.

In case of injury

Dr. Mulholland advises that the most important thing to do after exposure is to wash off with soapy warm water sooner than later. If possible, wash the water off within an hour or less as the oil from the plant can penetrate the skin within minutes.

There are numerous over-the-counter (OTC) remedies to soothe the rash like antihistamines for itching, topical steroid creams, cortisone with an air-and-water-tight dressings, oatmeal baths, aloe vera and other topical lotions. However, they are symptom treatments and do not speed the cure. The body will eventually resolve the rash through one’s immune system.

Medical attention is not generally necessary other than to calm the rash down if it becomes really miserable for the patient, says Dr. Mulholland. Most patients seek care for the relief of the itching and systemic steroids can be used to calm the reaction.

Summer health hazard #4: recreational water illness (RWI)

Whether you’re hitting the beach, pool, lake or splash park this summer, be on guard for water woes that recreational waterways pose to your health.

Dr. Justin Sempsrott, emergency department medical director for affiliate West Valley Medical Center reminds us that the most hazardous part of visiting the water this year is the risk of drowning.

Children are at the highest risk, but no one is immune, even competent swimmers, says Dr. Sempsrott. This risk can be reduced for kids with direct adult supervision that is uninterrupted by cell phones, magazines, and drinking. Swim lessons and lifejackets are necessary tools for all ages.

Another water danger that you might not be familiar with is recreational water illness, or RWI. Over the last two decades, RWI cases have increased substantially—as much as 200%.

Dr. Sempsrott dives deeper on what exactly recreational water illnesses are.

RWI’s are simply any illnesses that are caused by germs or chemicals in the water in which we swim, says Dr. Sempsrott. These germs or chemicals can be encountered in natural bodies of water such as lakes, streams, and oceans or artificial water sources like swimming pools.

The germs that cause RWI’s can be bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungus. The most common is the parasite cryptosporidium, which is often called crypto for short. Crypto is a microscopic organism that is spread through water contaminated with feces that is later unintentionally ingested by swimming. It can also be spread by persons not washing their hands after using the bathroom, who then touch items that someone brings to their mouth like a water bottle or their hand after a handshake. The infected person then spreads it by their own diarrhea.

Crypto is one of the most common causes of recreational water illness and can cause prolonged diarrhea for 1–2 weeks.

Having appropriate levels of chlorine helps to kill these germs, but the chlorine takes a different amount of time to work depending on the germ, said Dr. Sempsrott. For example, the bacteria e. coli can only survive for less than a minute in properly chlorinated pool, while certain viruses can survive for more than 15 minutes. The parasites can live for much longer, giardia survives for about 45 minutes, and crypto more than 10 days! Luckily, germs that are in the blood are quickly killed by chlorinated water and do not pose a threat.

In case of injury

Dr. Justin Sempsrott and his son, Hunter; West Valley Medical Center (Caldwell, ID)

RWI’s caused by germs can cause diarrhea, rashes, ear infections and respiratory infections.

Dr. Sempsrott advises patients to seek care if they develop diarrhea that lasts more than five days, contains blood, is accompanied by a fever, or causes dehydration. Talk to your doctor if you develop a rash that lasts longer than a few days, especially if it contains pus or is accompanied by a fever, he adds.

Prevention and safety tips

Dr. Sempsrott’s gives his top advice to prevent a RWI this summer: shower before and after you swim, wash your hands after the bathroom, and don’t poop or pee in the pool!

  • Check with local public health authorities and respect no swimming signs at natural bodies of water. Even though the water looks clean, there may be animal waste contamination or sewage upstream.
  • You should stay out of the water completely if you have diarrhea. Even if you have washed your hands, there is still small amounts of fecal matter on the outside of your body and there can be millions of crypto parasites in your bowel movement. The parasites can continue to spread in your feces for weeks after diarrhea stops.
  • Parents should change diapers in the bathroom or dedicated changing areas, not poolside. They should then wash their hands after changing diapers.
  • Don’t forget to take regular bathroom breaks for kids and adults of all ages.

Summer health hazard #5: foodborne illnesses

Summertime is filled with lots of BBQ and potluck fun. But, warmer temperatures can also create the perfect breeding ground for common bacteria that cause food poisoning. Foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, 1 in 6 Americans (48 million) contract food poisoning. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Dietician and nutritionist Maria Bohland with affiliate Heart Hospital of Austin gives tips to help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning this summer.

Food poisoning can happen when refrigerated food is left out in warm temperatures for longer than two hours, says Bohland. Bacteria grow and can cause foodborne illness symptoms like nausea, vomiting and high fever with diarrhea.

Prevention and healthy eating tips

Dietician and nutritionist Maria Bohland; Heart Hospital of Austin (Austin, TX)

Food should be thrown away if left out for more than two hours, advises Bohland. Typically, the rule of thumb is that animal products and foods high in protein can be harmful once spoiled.

Ensure proper internal cooking temperatures

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends steaks and roasts (beef) be cooked to 145°F (medium) and then rested for at least three minutes.
  • To ensure food safety, ground beef should be cooked to a minimum of 160°F (well done).
  • Meats that need to be cooked (well done) are poultry, pork, burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets, kebabs, organ meats and any meat or fish that has been minced or skewered.

Keep food safe as summer temperatures rise

  • Store foods in an ice cooler so that perishables stay cold.
  • Portion out large dishes into smaller containers, and serve smaller amounts. If more food is needed, then it is already stored in the cooler and kept cold.
  • Store foods in plastic bags when possible to ensure faster cooling.
  • Separate foods that can potentially cause cross-contamination, e.g., chicken that has been marinated, in a bag or container. The marinade could potentially drip on other perishable food items causing foodborne illness.

Remember to make healthy choices

  • Cheese and beef jerky can be a good protein alternative for a picnic protein.
  • Purchase finger foods in small portions that are easy to eat, such as baked chicken wings or a homemade chicken salad with walnuts and grapes that can be put on crackers.
  • All natural spices like garlic, paprika and coarsely ground pepper are good rub options for steaks and any other meat. Adding olive oil as a marinade with these seasonings, or any pre-made seasoning can be a healthier option.
  • Using fresh herbs can make any meat taste better. Rosemary for beef and lamb, oregano and thyme for chicken, dill for fish, and cumin seeds for pork are the best herbs for each meat.

Check out a few of Maria’s favorite marinade and side dish recipes here.

In 21 states and the United Kingdom, HCA Healthcare improves more lives in more ways. If you need to seek medical attention this summer, visit our location finder to find a facility near you.