Emergency rooms across the area are treating a variety of ailments that come with summer fun and sun.
We talked with medical professionals from the north and south ends of the county to see what summer health problems they see most frequently, and what you can do to help your family and friends avoid trips to the emergency room.
Dr. Jason Mutch, medical director of the emergency department at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center, said winter used to be the busier time in the emergency room, with flu and other cold-related illnesses. He said now the volume is just as high in the summer with issues related to people being outside.
Once you feel thirsty, you are already experiencing stage one dehydration.
Lisa Alexander, nurse manager at Carolinas Healthcare System Huntersville Emergency Department
Heat is a big reason for summer emergency room visits as people work and play hard outdoors and forget to drink water. Because heat can equally affect the old and they young, Dr. Chris Reynolds, medical director of the Emergency Department at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center, said everyone should use a little caution when spending time outdoors.
“Regardless of age, if you are outside for any length of time you need to find some shade, cool off periodically, and stay hydrated,” Reynolds said.
“Some symptoms are overt – heat stroke, heat exhaustion, that sort of thing. Other times heat contributes to weakness, dizziness and feelings of dehydration, particularly with older folks.”
He said everyone should check on elderly relatives, friends and neighbors during times of hot weather.
Lisa Alexander, nurse manager at Carolinas Healthcare System Huntersville Emergency Department, said everyone should drink water whether they are thirsty or not.
“Once you feel thirsty, you are already experiencing stage one dehydration,” Alexander said.
Dr. Benjamin Morel, assistant medical director for the Carolinas Healthcare Systems Pineville emergency department, said people should exercise caution around hot cars.
“Never leave children or the elderly unsupervised in a parked car,” Morel said. “Heat exhaustion, leading to heat stroke may only take a few minutes.”
Mutch said sunburn is a common, but preventable, problem. Boaters and swimmers frequently lose track of time because they are having so much fun, and their sunscreen loses its effectiveness or washes off. Since severe sunburns can be second degree, he said its imperative to apply sunscreen early and often to protect your skin.
Bone and joint injuries also are a summer hazard.
While fractures and sprains occur all year, Reynolds said the reasons for the injuries change with the seasons.
“We see wrist and ankle fractures and lacerations year round, but this time of year it’s usually the result of outdoor recreation or sports activities,” Reynolds said.
In winter, ice is a prime culprit causing slips and falls. In summer, water takes center stage.
“Water makes anything slippery. Floating docks and boats are moving targets and sometimes people will misjudge distance and fall,” Mutch said.
Carelessness around pools, lakes or any wet surface can lead to even more serious consequences. Alexander said folks should never swim alone. Morel urges parents to be especially vigilant.
“The less common but more serious summer related visits are related to water injuries and drownings.... Everyone should use life jackets on boats and in the lake. Parents should exercise excellent supervision in these circumstances,” Morel said.
Head injuries are another summertime emergency room complaint. Reynolds said he sees head injuries all too frequently, particularly among children, but many of those injuries could be prevented, or much less severe, if children would wear helmets when riding bikes, scooters, and skateboards.
“We always tell kids, ‘no helmet, no ride,’” Alexander said.
Burns also are a summertime hazard, with the increase in grill use and fireworks. Mutch said it’s important to pay attention and use common sense when fire is involved.
Insect bites and dermatitis are at their peak this time of year.
Use insect repellent outside when necessary, wear long sleeves and long pants if you are going into the woods, and check yourself and your children for ticks. Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever have been reported in the area.
Finally, drink responsibly. Mutch said alcohol causes faster dehydration and compounds other problems.
“Our society associates alcohol with a good time, but it’s a big contributor to accidents,” Mutch said. “Often judgment gets impaired and the things people do on a regular basis they do a little more aggressively without paying attention. Alcohol is a big contributing factor in a majority of injuries.”
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips to help avoid a summer ER visit
1. Always wear sunscreen
2. Stay hydrated - drink plenty of water
3. Never leave children, the elderly, or pets in a car unattended
4. Always wear a helmet when riding on wheels
5. Wear a life jacket when near or in water, and never swim alone
6. Check on elderly relatives and neighbors when the temps start to climb
7. If you drink alcohol, drink responsibly