Summer can be a three-month block party, full of sunshine and swimming, four-wheelers and fishing — but it can also be a booby-trapped obstacle course ripe for accidents and injuries.
It’s no wonder that emergency department visits increase across the United States when the days get longer.
And while we have a newly revamped emergency room (ER) at Baptist Health Louisville, with the capacity to treat more than 20,000 additional patients every year (the waiting is over!), we know that no one wants to spend their summer in one.
We talked to two of our ER doctors for tips to keep you basking in the sunshine — and out of the hospital — this year.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Eight glasses of water a day should be your baseline, and that’s if you’re planning to stay indoors. If you’re going to be outside, increase your water intake accordingly, says Dave Biddle, MD, an emergency department doctor at Baptist Health Louisville.
Schedule outdoor activities early in the morning, when the day is coolest, and take plenty of breaks.
“We’ll see people who get so hot that they get renal (kidney) injury and muscle injury that can cause a lot of muscle soreness,” Dr. Biddle says. “The best way to prevent that is to drink plenty of fluids.”
We mean it: Use sunscreen.
Sunburns sideline you from the things you love to do outside. They can make you nauseous and fatigued. Worst of all, they put you at risk for skin cancer. Having a history of severe sunburn strongly increases a person’s risk of melanoma. That risk appeared to be higher for men than for women.
Sunscreen can help block harmful ultraviolet rays. So wear it. And wear it properly: That means reapplying often, and not missing any exposed skin.
“Cover your body,” Dr. Biddle says. “And the higher SPF the better — at least SPF 30.”
Watch out for potato salad.
For that matter, beware of the macaroni salad, the chicken, and the fish, too.
“Once or twice a summer, there will be a food poisoning outbreak,” says Tom Harris, MD, an emergency department doctor with Baptist Health Floyd. “You can’t leave that jar of mayo outside long when it’s 90 degrees.”
Other stuff you don’t want to leave in the heat? Salads with mayonnaise-based dressings, deviled eggs (or any other egg dishes), and meats, including fish.
“If there’s any question, throw it away,” Dr. Biddle says.
Careful around the pool.
More than half of all drownings in Kentucky happen between May and August each year, and near-drownings can lead to long-term brain damage. Having a healthy respect for water can help prevent drownings. Teach children to swim at an early age, surround backyard pools with fences and secure, retractable covers, and remove toys and other items children might find tempting from the water, Dr. Harris says.
Supervision is most important of all. Too often, adults assume, in a group of people, that someone is keeping an eye on the kids. Those assumptions can be deadly.
“Make sure there is a designated adult whose only job is to watch the pool,” Dr. Harris says.
Alcohol and engines should never mix.
When Dr. Harris is working in the ER on a summer weekend night, he can almost set his watch by the nightly four-wheeler accident — and it’s almost guaranteed that alcohol was involved.
If you’re riding dirt bikes (or any bikes, for that matter), or four-wheelers, wear a helmet and other protective gear. And never, ever ride after drinking alcohol.
“Alcohol and internal combustion should not be in the same sentence,” Dr. Harris says. Obviously, that advice extends to driving any vehicle, including cars and trucks. Alcohol-related crashes account for nearly 3 in 10 traffic deaths in the United States.
The most important thing you can do to stay safe this summer, both doctors say, is to take stock of what can go wrong with any activity and then take steps to prevent it.
“If you’re going to the woods, you’re going to try to prevent ticks; if you’re going to the pool, think sunscreen and pool safety,” Dr. Biddle says.
Then, once you’ve considered the hazards of your summer fun, you can get on with having it, with peace of mind.
The waiting is over — take a look at the newly renovated Baptist Health Louisville Emergency Department.