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Avoiding Summertime Injuries and Illness

How to enjoy the weather and stay safe

By Roneet Lev, MD, emergency room physician, Scripps Mercy Hospital

Summer is just around the corner and we’re lucky to live in such a beautiful environment with plenty of activities to keep us busy. However, the warmer weather brings a heightened risk of injury, even illness. There are several steps you can take to avoid a visit to the emergency department.

Some of the most common injuries I see as an emergency room physician are the result of motor vehicle accidents. With more cars on the road in the summer months, the likelihood of an accident goes up. Every time you’re in a car, you need to wear a seat belt, and make sure that children are in an age-appropriate car or booster seat. These precautions are often the difference between life and death.

Preventing head injuries

Head injuries resulting from skateboarding, bicycling or rollerblading are also more common in summer. Helmets, which are legally required for children, are a good idea for everyone. A very high percentage of brain injuries can be prevented by wearing a helmet.

A good helmet will comfortably touch the head all the way around, remaining level and stable enough to resist even violent shakes or hard blows. It should be as low on the head as possible to maximize side coverage and secured with a strap that’s comfortably snug.

Everyone who rides a skateboard or inline skates has fallen on their outstretched hands, which is why wrist fractures are so common with these sports. Most of these broken bones could be avoided by wearing wrist guards.

Water safety

San Diego residents are very lucky to live in a prime location along the Pacific Coast. The beaches are packed in the summer, and many people have access to swimming pools, making water safety essential. The most important issue is knowing how to swim. The American Red Cross offers swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability.

Nobody should ever swim alone, no matter how strong you are and no matter where you are. It’s best to stay in a designated swimming area within view of a lifeguard whenever possible. Always make sure you have enough energy to swim back to shore. If you get caught in a current, don’t try to swim against it — you’ll get very tired very fast. A better idea is to swim across it gradually.

It’s important to remember that most people who drown had no intention of being in the water. Don’t take risks. If you are going to ride on a jet ski, water ski or wake board, be sure to wear a life jacket. Alcohol and boating can be a deadly combination, so never operate a boat or jet ski while drinking.

Signs of heat stroke

Heat is definitely an issue, even in our temperate climate. The very young and the elderly are most susceptible to heat illness, but when the mercury rises, anyone can be affected. Each year there are 400 deaths from heat-related causes.

When it’s hot outside, it’s important to drink plenty of water or a sports drink, avoid alcohol and stay in a well-ventilated area, such as an air-conditioned house. It’s also a good idea to use sunscreen and wear a hat and loose-fitting clothes. If you begin to feel hot or lightheaded, stop your activity, drink fluids and rest.

Signs of heat illness include:

  • Sweating
  • Paleness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Disorientation

If you experience any of these signs, you need to seek prompt medical attention.

Food safety

Picnics in the park or on the beach are a great way to spend time outdoors and get lots of activity. However, extra precautions need to be taken with food preparation since common kitchen safety measures are more difficult to maintain. Remember to wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before preparing any food.

Make sure that foods are cooked to the proper temperature to kill bacteria, and don’t put cooked food on a plate that once held raw meat. It’s also a good idea to transport and store meat and other perishable foods in a different cooler than beverages or snacks. By doing so, it will help prevent cross-contamination and maintain a cooler temperature in the meat cooler, since it will be opened less often.

Food left out for more than two hours may not be safe to eat, so play it safe and put leftover perishables back on ice once you finish eating so they don’t spoil or become unsafe.

Summer is a perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors, so be active, and spend time with friends and family, enjoying all this great city has to offer. With a few precautions and forethought, it can also be a very safe season.

Learn more about emergency and trauma services at Scripps.

Media Contact

Kristin Reinhardt
Follow me: @KReinhardt_SD