Avoiding the season’s common health hazards
It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy — but that doesn’t mean dangers aren’t lurking nearby. While breaks from school, warm temperatures, holidays, and vacations on the horizon mean fun for the whole family, these situations can contribute to some of summer’s most common safety concerns.
1. Child’s Play
Summer time is play time. Children are out of school (and hopefully being active outdoors). However, fun activities can spell danger, as summer is a time when children wind up in the emergency room due to accidents. It is important that parents make sure children play safely.
Children should always wear helmets when biking and skating and protective gear when playing sports like baseball and soccer. Keep children safe by always having an adult present to watch out for them.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that playgrounds have a soft ground cover such as bark, rubber, or wood chips around all play equipment to cushion the impact of falls. Always make sure children are using age-appropriate playground equipment.
2. Sun Exposure
The summer sun is inviting, but it also poses a danger to one’s health. Sunburns and skin cancer all can occur from over-exposure to the sun’s heat and damaging ultraviolet radiation. Some simple safety precautions can protect you and your family.
“Other than totally avoiding the sun, sunscreen is perhaps the easiest and most efficient method to protect oneself from its harmful rays,” says Dr. William J. Roth, a dermatologist at Watson Clinic in Lakeland. “Make certain that an adequate amount of sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher is applied to the skin 30 minutes before sun exposure.”
The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services recommends limiting exposure to the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as this will minimize exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation. During these hours, the sun’s radiation is at its strongest levels.
Use a broad spectrum, high SPF sunscreen and wear light weight, protective clothing when working in the sun. A broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses can help protect your face and eyes from the harmful rays.
3. Heat exposure
“With prolonged exposure to the heat, people can become ill if they don’t take precautions,” says Dr. Daniel Haight, the Director of the Polk County Health Department. “The elderly, young children, and those with existing health problems are most prone to the damaging effects of oppressive heat.”
When the weather is hot and humid, it becomes difficult for the body to release heat that builds up. This can result in rising body temperature, which can cause heat cramps, exhaustion, and even heat stroke.
“[A person becomes dehydrated] by not drinking enough fluids, or by drinking the wrong fluids during exposure to heat — for example ‘a cold beer’ to quench your thirst,” says Rajendra K. Sawh, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine specialist at Watson Clinic. “Alcoholic beverages and liquids with high sugar content actually cause you to lose more body fluids. Another common situation that can lead to dehydration is working or exercising in very hot weather for long periods of time, and not consuming enough fluids, using adequate/appropriate clothing and resting periodically.”
According to Sawh, the symptoms of heat exposure include: Heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea/vomiting, and fainting. Further signs are when skin becomes moist and cool, weak and rapid pulse, shallow and rapid breathing.
“In addition to taking precautions for ourselves, we need to look after each other during a health alert,” Haight points out. “Friends, neighbors, and community organizations need to remember that vulnerable members of society may not have air conditioning or access to information about how to avoid heat-related health problems.”
4. Water Safety
Summer is the time when many families head to the pool, lake or beach.
Every person in a boat or canoe should wear a personal floatation device that fits properly. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “in 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard received reports for 4,789 boating incidents. Among those who drowned, nine out of 10 were not wearing life jackets. Most boating fatalities that occurred during 2008, were caused by drowning with 90 percent of victims not wearing life jackets.”
Never leave children alone in or near water, because a child can drown in a matter of seconds. Barriers, such as pool fencing, can help prevent children from gaining access to the pool area without caregivers’ awareness. An adult should be in the water, with the children in reach, when swimming.
At any age, a person should never swim alone. Drink water to keep hydrated, and never use alcohol while swimming. Alcohol’s effects are heightened by sun exposure and heat.
Haight recommends healthy swimming practices. “Do not swim when you have diarrhea,” he says. “Do not swallow pool water or get pool water in your mouth. Shower before swimming — children, too. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Take children to the restroom for bathroom breaks, or change diapers often, changing them in a restroom, not poolside.”
5. Grilling Dangers
For many families, summer is the season for outdoor grilling, but this American pastime can present dangers on a variety of levels.
“According to the Barbeque Industry Association, three out of four households in the US own a charcoal or gas grill,” says Sandra Harrison, MSA, RD, the Clinical Nutrition Manager at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
She says it is important to make fire safety a priority and practice precautions. “Set up a grill in an open area away from buildings, overhead combustible surfaces, dry leaves or brush, she explains. “Never use the grill indoors, use it at least 10 feet away from your house or any building. Do not use the grill in the garage, carport or porch.”
It also is important to keep a multipurpose fire extinguisher within easy reach, to wear clothing that does not have hanging sleeves or apron strings, and to use flame retardant mitts.
Harrison also recommends never leaving a grill unattended, using long handled-utensils to avoid burns and splatters and never attempting to move a hot grill.
“If using a charcoal grill, gasoline should never be used in place of charcoal lighter fluid,” she says. “Never reapply charcoal lighter fluid after the fire has started. Keep the grill clean. Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below the grill so it cannot be ignited [when in use].”
6. Food Safety
Following grill safety, certain precautions need to be taken when cooking and eating food outdoors.
Different meats have to be cooked to specific temperatures for certain amounts of time, and foods exposed to temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit for more than four hours are not safe to eat.
During the summer months, Harrison says Florida’s hot temperatures can cause dangerous situations for food safety. “[When grocery shopping], put away perishables within two hours,” she says. “Go straight from the grocery store to home; [you] may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.”
When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth, she advises. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degree Fahrenheit or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.
“When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter,” Harrison says. “Avoid opening the lid too often. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.”
Also, in hot weather (above 90 degrees), food should never sit out for more than one hour. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours.
Perhaps the most popular way of celebrating Independence Day is with fireworks. However, the dangers associated with do-it-your-self July 4 displays can be catastrophic.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), in 2008, fireworks caused an estimated 22,500 reported fires, including 1,400 total structure fires, 500 vehicle fires, and 20,600 outside and other fires. These fires resulted in an estimated one civilian death, 40 civilian injuries and $42 million in direct property damage.
That same year, United States hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 7,000 people for fireworks related injuries.
On Independence Day in a typical year, far more fires are reported than on any other day, and fireworks account for more than half of those fires, more than any other cause of fires.
According to the NFPA, consumer fireworks include sparklers and firecrackers. The tip of a sparkler burns at a temperature of more than 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause third-degree burns.
To avoid a health or fire hazard on this national holiday, the safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public display conducted by trained professionals.
story by MEREDITH JEAN MORTON