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Prevention Is the Best Medicine to Avoid the ED

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Summer is a favorite time of year for many, with plenty of fun activities centered on the outdoors. But nothing dampens a spirited day on the beach or a tasty cookout more than an injury-related trip to the emergency room.

“No one goes on vacation expecting to visit the hospital, but after 14 years of providing care in a hospital emergency room, I’ve seen my share of painful outcomes to what began as a fun activity,” said Dr. Scott Grupas, an emergency medicine physician with Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital. “While you can’t prepare for everything that could happen, taking safety preparedness seriously before you head out on your day can quite literally save a lot of pain.”

He offers common reasons people wind up in hospital emergency departments and ways to keep yourself and family safe: 

Dehydration & Heat Exhaustion

Increasing temperatures can take people by surprise, especially in milder climates like the Pacific Northwest where very hot days are few. To help your body adapt to heat, Dr. Grupas recommends drinking plenty of water throughout the day and taking frequent breaks in cool or shady locations. “Mostly, pay close attention to how you feel on a hot day,” he said. “Dizziness, nausea and sudden fatigue can be signs of dehydration. Drink a glass of water and you should feel better fairly quickly,” he noted. However, heat exhaustion is more serious. “If you become confused, have a rapid heartbeat, fever or chills, you should get to medical help immediately,” he said.

Water Accidents

Warm summer days are perfect for swimming and boating, but accidents can turn tragic fast. “Two things I wish I could tell everyone who heads out for a day on the open water is this: Wear a life vest even if you know how to swim, and avoid alcohol or drug use while boating,” said Dr. Grupas. Open water can be unpredictable and it’s important to bring your best judgement abilities to handle any potentially dangerous situation. “That means wearing the life vest rather than sitting on it and staying sober so that you don’t make critical mistakes in an emergency.” Also, make sure swimming children are always supervised while in or near water.

Burns

With summer comes BBQs, campfires and sunshine – all capable of vacation-ruining burns. “Minor burns can mostly be treated at home by immediately running cool water over the burn, then applying an antibiotic ointment or an aloe vera gel and, if possible, covering the burn with a bandage,” said Dr. Grupas. “Burns that cover a substantial area of the body or are very painful should be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic or emergency room.” Most burn injuries are preventable by keeping a close eye on children around campfires, grills and fireworks, and by the frequent application of sunscreen while in the sun.

Head Injuries

Tumbling off a bike or skateboard is a common rite of passage for children, but serious accidents can happen too, and wearing helmets protects brains and skulls from serious injury. Be sure the helmet fits correctly for the person and the activity. The helmet should be snug, but not too tight, and sit level on the head an inch or so above the eyebrows. If an accident occurs, Dr. Grupas recommends watching for signs of concussion. “The person may briefly lose consciousness and may seem dazed, move clumsily, speak slowly or say they don’t feel right,” said Dr. Grupas. “It’s important to check for symptoms right away, but sometimes, symptoms don’t show up until after a few hours or even the next day, so keep checking. If you notice changes or are concerned about a person’s behavior, go to an urgent care or the emergency room for evaluation,” he said.

Stings & Bites

Summer wouldn’t be complete without those insects that bug us like mosquitos, ticks and biting flies, which can mostly be kept at bay by using a repellent with picaridin, essential oil of lemon eucalyptus or a low percentage of DEET. But, if you are bitten or stung, Dr. Grupas recommends the following at-home treatment: “First, remove the stinger, tick or insect hairs from skin, then wash the area with soap and water, followed by a cold compress or ice pack for about ten minutes to reduce any swelling,” said Dr. Grupas. “If you have any shortness of breath, wheezing or rapid heartbeat after a sting or bite, or have a history of anaphylaxis, get medical attention right away.”

Often, it’s not a stinger that brings someone to an emergency room, but an animal bite or puncture wound. “For a superficial bite, wash the area with soap and water and follow with an antibiotic ointment and bandage,” said Dr. Grupas. “However, if the skin is broken or bleeding profusely, call 911 and apply direct pressure until bleeding stops. In all cases of animal bites, if you can locate the animal’s owner, find out whether its rabies vaccines are current; your health care provider will want to know that.”

Prevention is still the best medicine for accidents, Dr. Grupas noted.

“For most of us, summer fun won’t lead to a hospital emergency room,” Dr. Grupas added. “Still, it’s a good practice to make safety and preparedness a top priority not only for summer, but all year long.”

If you have a summer accident, find convenient options to get care when you need it.