There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues, but there are ways to treat—and prevent—summer’s worst ailments.
Teresa Amato, MD, director of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills lists six of the most common reasons for summertime emergency room visits and how you can prevent them.
“High heat, high humidity days are dangerous because our mechanism to cool off, which is sweating, is decreased,” Amato said.
When the forecast offers up this double threat, it’s time to cut back on the amount of time that you’re outside, especially during the late morning to afternoon. You also need to decrease the exercise intensity on those days. And if you’re working outdoors, make sure that you’re replenishing what you’re losing with sweat with an appropriate fluid intake.
Exposure to high heat for a prolonged period of time can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These heat-related illnesses vary in severity from mild complications to a life-threatening condition.
“Heat cramps usually occur because you’ve been exercising, you’ve been sweating, and you’ve lost salt and some other minerals.
Because of that loss of electrolytes you start getting some muscle cramps,” Amato said. “While painful, these brief and painful muscle spasms usually go away on their own.”
Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. It occurs in conditions of extreme heat and excessive sweating without adequate fluid and salt replacement.
“At this point, your body is still able to cool itself off but you don’t feel well,” said Amato.
Signs of heat exhaustion include muscle cramps; pale, moist skin; dizziness or lightheadedness; headaches; and nausea.
“When you get to something called heat stroke, that’s very dangerous,” Amato said. “What happens with heat stroke is you’ve lost the ability to cool yourself off.”
Signs of heat stroke include rise in body temperature; warm, dry skin; change in mental status; rapid heart rate; nausea; vomiting; and stupor.
This is considered a life-threatening medical emergency and requires the person to be taken to an emergency department.
Those especially at risk for heat-related emergencies include babies, the elderly and people who are overweight, have a chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, or take anti-psychotic medications.
Sunburns can be painful, cause nausea, dizziness, dehydration and fainting. At their worst, sunburns can cause blistering and lead to infections.
“Once you get blisters, that’s considered a second-degree burn,” said Amato. “If you have blisters over more than 50 percent of your body, you should come to the ED to be checked out because you may require IV fluids.”
Avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. since that’s when the sun’s ultra-violet rays are strongest. Also, use sunscreen, especially on the areas that are most vulnerable like the tip of your nose, top of your ears and scalp.
“During hot days, you have to be very careful about what food your eating, especially if it’s been sitting outside for a long period of time,” said Amato.
The heat can cause bacteria to build up on foods with mayonnaise, such as potato salad, egg salad, tuna salad. This can sicken you within an hour after eating, causing nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Most people who have food poisoning just need to rest and drink plenty of fluids. However, if you’re having difficulty keeping fluids down, feeling fatigued and dehydrated, you need to be seen in the ED for intravenous fluids and management of nausea and vomiting.
“As an emergency physician, I am completely against all fireworks, even benign ones like sparklers,” said Amato. “I have seen people who have burns to their face and hair from sparklers, severe eye injuries from putting their face close to the firecracker.
Although they’re fun and beautiful, they’re best left to the professionals.”
While most bug bites and stings don’t require a trip to the ED, some do—especially if you have an undiagnosed allergy to particular bug venom or if that bug is a disease carrier.
If you experience swelling of the throat, chest pain, a persistent racing heartbeat, dizziness or vomiting, head to the ED.