While there are health challenges in every season, the summer months are loaded with potential risks and hazards that help fill up emergency rooms and generate unnecessary misery. Most injuries and illnesses occurring from July through September can be avoided with a liberal application of prevention.
“There’s no better place than Tennessee in the summer, but too many of us forget to take proper care of ourselves and our families,” said David Reagan, MD, PhD, TDH chief medical officer. “While we’re soaking up as much summer fun as possible, we need to be mindful of the dangers of the season and give more thought to taking care of our bodies. That involves planning for the ‘Summer Seven’ that can do so much damage.”
The ‘Summer Seven’ that can rob you of good health include: sun damage to skin and eyes, food poisoning, drowning, motor vehicle accidents, fireworks injuries, bites and heat-related illness. Follow these tips to stay safe this summer:
Sun damage: The painful reddening of skin many experience year after year is one of the prime causes of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in America. It is estimated more than one million people each year are diagnosed with skin cancer, and just one bad sunburn can be the cause. Melanoma is the fifth leading cancer in men and the seventh in women. Tragically for many, a diagnosis of skin cancer is the first part of a journey through painful treatment and surgeries, and for some, can turn deadly. If you work or play in the sun, always use sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply these products liberally and often. Don’t forget to protect your eyes with sunglasses that offer UVA and UVB protection. Among the most common consequences of not wearing sunglasses regularly are the development of cataracts and damage to retinas.
Food poisoning: While Aunt Gertrude’s potato salad may look yummy at the family picnic, mayonnaise and summer heat are a potentially dangerous combination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 76 million Americans will fall victim to food poisoning this year. Food kept out in summer heat for too long is a prime cause, and the effects of food poisoning can range from the unpleasant (upset stomach, nausea and diarrhea) to hospitalization and death. Keep foods in coolers until they are ready to be consumed, and make sure those preparing, handling and eating foods wash their hands thoroughly.
Drowning: While more than 600 people drown annually from boating accidents in America, up to six times that many die in swimming pools. For every child that drowns, up to five times more will suffer near-death accidents in pools. Life preservers are called that for good reason, and should be worn by all boaters without exception. At the pool, there should always be at least one designated person to handle life-saving and who is trained in CPR. Every pool should also have proper life-saving equipment, including a safety ring and rope and an extension pole. Never swim alone or let children swim without supervision by a responsible adult who can also swim.
Motor vehicle accidents: Last year in Tennessee in the months of July, August and September, 28 people in Tennessee died in accidents involving motorcycles and recreational vehicles, and 96 others were killed in car and truck accidents. While alcohol remains a prime factor, other major causes include unnecessarily risky riding or driving, driving while fatigued or impaired from medications and improperly maintained vehicles or equipment. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, more than 50 percent of vehicle fatalities in Tennessee this year have involved people not wearing seat belts. The Tennessee Highway Patrol is increasing its seat belt enforcement efforts, and stepping up efforts to stop texting and driving.
Fireworks injuries: Every year approximately 10,000 people find themselves in emergency rooms with an injury from fireworks. If you insist on putting on your own display, don’t drink alcohol and never let children detonate devices. If the fireworks are rocket-like, make sure they are pointed upward. Don’t hold explosives such as firecrackers, cherry bombs, M-80s or other fireworks in your hand while lighting them. With dry conditions across Tennessee, keep a supply of water or a fire extinguisher handy to help prevent incendiaries from making your lawn or roof part of the show. Be sure to follow any local bans on fireworks and outdoor burning.
Bites: The summer season brings out everything that bites: insects, spiders, snakes and animals. While you are outside, remember there are things that are hungry and sometimes angry or diseased, and that you must develop a skill soldiers call “situational awareness.” This requires you to think about what can harm you, and what you can do to counter the threat. Insect repellant and clothes treated with permethrin will help keep away tiny pests. Special boots and leggings can help prevent snake bites; developing knowledge of where snakes like to stay and avoiding bothering them is also important. If you are outdoors often, hand-held chemical repellants can deter larger animals from biting. It’s best to observe animals from a safe distance, and to remember many domestic and wild animals may carry rabies.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke: Heat exhaustion is caused by depletion of body fluids and electrolytes and usually occurs in extreme heat or when a person is unable to adapt to heat. Signs include weakness, nausea, cramps and sometimes loss of consciousness. Heat stroke is a more serious condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to dangerous levels, and can damage the brain and other organs. Some signs of heat stroke include short, rapid breathing; confusion; fast pulse; lack of sweating and confusion. These indicate medical treatment is required immediately. In Tennessee in 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, 22 people died from heat-related illnesses. Avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke by limiting time in extreme heat, consuming sufficient quantities of water and avoiding caffeinated drinks, wearing a hat, seeking shade and wearing light-colored clothing.