by Dr. Charles Simmons, Medical Director
Ah, summer in San Diego. The beach. The sun. The barbecue. The sports. Sounds great, right?
Well, it can be. But it can also be a time for serous injuries. As an emergency room physician, I see a spike in certain types of injuries as the temperatures rise. It helps to be prepared and understand that there are risks associated with the many fun activities we enjoy during this time of year.
Perhaps the biggest culprit of summer injuries is the ever-present summer sun. In San Diego, it’s particularly brutal — especially on unprotected skin. Everyone, no matter your complexion, should wear sunscreen to block harmful UV rays and avoid exposure during the peak hours of noon to 3 p.m. Limit the time you spend in the sun, even during off-peak hours.
Certainly, reapply sunscreen if you’re in the sun for long periods of time or coming in and out of the water. And make sure your children are protected, as well. It doesn’t take long in San Diego to get burned. If you do experience severe sunburn, you should visit your nearest urgent care center.
Summer brings out the weekend warrior in many of us — even if we haven’t swung a bat or laced a pair of running shoes in months! Unfortunately, we often don’t allow our bodies time to adjust to the increased activity, and that often leads to injuries.
My advice: Take it slow and stretch. Allow your body time to warm up and cool down afterwards. Don’t expect to perform at the level you did six months ago. Over-exerting yourself in a sporting activity is an easy way to sprain or strain an ankle. If you do hurt your ankle — and often it is a simple strain, not a sprain — apply ice to decrease the swelling. And if you continue to have trouble walking and are concerned, see a doctor.
If your summer activities include riding bikes, skateboards or strapping on rollerblades — be sure to follow the advice you give to your children. Wear a helmet! So often I see adults who were out with their children on a bike or rollerblades end up in the ER with a head injury. The child was wearing a helmet, but Dad wasn’t. Set a good example for your children and prevent injury, all at the same time.
Great outdoor venues abound in San Diego County for summer hiking, camping or picnicking. But keep in mind that these areas are also home to rattlesnakes. There are many common misconceptions about treating a rattlesnake bite.
First, don’t cut the wound or suck out the venom, which can lead to infection. Stay calm and get yourself to a hospital as soon as possible. Don’t hike alone in the first place, because it’s important to have someone who can help you if you are bitten. And protect your ankles and lower limbs while hiking in wilderness areas by wearing long pants, tall hiking boots and thick socks. This will also protect you from poison oak, a common noxious plant in Southern California that can lead to a serious itching rash.
While bee sting allergies are not as common as you might think, for those who are allergic, extreme caution should be taken when spending time outdoors. If you are stung, scrape the stinger off with a fingernail or credit card and if you notice a shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing, come to the nearest Emergency Department (ED).
Beach-goers should use caution to avoid another type of sting — rays and jellyfish. If a stingray injures you, put your foot in warm water. This neutralizes the protein in the venom and helps take away the pain. Jellyfish stings can be serious. If you are stung, get yourself to an ED quickly.
Backyard cookouts are also a source of serious injuries. Make sure you have a screen over the grill and that the grill and propane tank are in an open area with no overhanging tree branches. Keep the area 10 feet around the grill free of leaves and other flammable materials. And keep children away from the grill.
If you are burned, cool the burned area with cool water, an ice pack or soaked cloth. Then cover with a sterile dressing. You should call 911 if you experience difficulty breathing, if the burn covers more than one body part, involves the head, neck, hands, feet or genitals, or involves a child or elderly person. Certainly burns resulting from chemicals, electricity, or explosions should be treated by a physician.
The best advice I can offer to parents is to please keep an eye on their children during outdoor summer activities. Never leave a child unattended near water. A few short minutes away from the backyard pool to answer the phone can have tragic consequences. Similarly, at the beach, decide who is going to watch the children; don’t assume your spouse or other adults in a group are monitoring their safety.
And when away from home, keep a simple first-aid kit handy to deal with minor injuries and carry a cell phone so that you can call 911 in an emergency.
Stay safe and have an enjoyable summer!
This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Dr. Charles Simmons, who is board certified in Emergency Medicine and medical director of the Emergency Department at Scripps Mercy Hospital.