To your health: Avoiding summertime injuries and illness

by Roneet Lev, M.D., Scripps Health

Summer is just around the corner, and that means more outdoor sports, longer beach days—and a greater risk of some injuries and illnesses. As an emergency room physician, I see plenty of warm-weather mishaps. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to avoid a visit to the emergency department.

Many of the most common injuries I see are the result of motor vehicle accidents. With more road trips and tourists in the summer months, there are more opportunities for accidents. Every time you’re in a car, even if you are just going up the street, make sure everyone is bucked in and children are in an age-appropriate car or booster seat. These basic precautions can help keep you safe in the event of an accident, and are often the difference between life and death.

Head injuries resulting from skateboarding, bicycling or rollerblading are also more common in summer. California law requires children under age 18 to wear helmets when participating in these activities, but they’re a good idea for adults as well—helmets can significantly help reduce head and brain injuries. A good helmet will firmly but 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.

Nearly everyone who has been on a skateboard or rollerblades has fallen on their outstretched hands at least once, which is why wrist factures are so common with these sports. Simply wearing wrist guards could help avoid most of these broken bones, as well as scraped hands and twisted fingers.

Because San Diego beaches are packed in the summer, and many people have access to swimming pools as well, water safety is essential. Know how to swim. Check the American Red Cross, YMCA or local community pool for swimming courses for people of any age and swimming ability. Never swim alone, no matter how strong you are. Stay in a designated swimming area within view of a lifeguard whenever possible. If you’re swimming in the ocean, ask about rip currents or dangerous areas before you go in, and make sure you have enough energy to swim back to shore. If you do get caught in a current, don’t try to swim against it – you’ll get very tired, very quickly. Try to stay relaxed and swim parallel to shore, and you should be able to swim out of it.

If you are going to ride on a jet ski, water ski or wakeboard, always wear a lifejacket. Make sure someone on the boat is keeping an eye on the skier at all times (and not driving the boat at the same time). Alcohol and boating can be a deadly combination, so never operate a boat or jet ski while drinking.

Even in our temperate climate, heat can be an issue.  Each year there are 400 deaths from heat-related causes. The very young and the elderly are most susceptible to heat illness, but when the mercury rises, anyone can be affected.  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 wear a hat and loose-fitting clothes. If you begin to feel hot or lightheaded, stop your activity, get out of the sun, drink fluids and rest. Serious signs of heat-related illness include profuse sweating, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these signs, you need to seek prompt medical attention.

Summer is a perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors. With a few precautions and forethought, it can also be a very safe season.

Roneet Lev, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician with Scripps. “To Your Health” is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps. For more information or a physician referral, please call 1-800-SCRIPPS.

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