Weekly Wellness: Avoiding summertime health hazards
COLUMBIA - According to WebMD, there are seven "Top Summer Health Hazards." They are: mower injuries, boating accidents, dehydration, sunburn, picnic-specific food poisoning, fireworks injuries and insect bites/stings.
We're going to break them down, issue-by-issue.
In 2010, 253,000 people were treated for lawn mower-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Children under age 19 account for nearly 17,000 of these injuries. The number of lawn mower-related injuries increased 3 percent since 2009.
To be safe:
- Wear closed-toed shoes -- preferably with a steel toe -- when you mow, along with goggles or sunglasses, gloves, and long pants that will protect you from flying debris.
- Keep kids away from the push mower and off the riding mower. Riding mowers are not just another ride-on toy.
- Get a professional to service your mower or learn how to do it properly. Important: Disconnect the spark plug to prevent it from accidentally starting. Turning a push mower's blade manually can ignite the engine.
Statistics provided by the U.S. Coast Guard from their 2013 Recreational Boating Statistics Report state that from 2012 to 2013, deaths in boating-related accidents decreased 14 percent, from 651 to 560, and injuries decreased from 3,000 to 2,620, a 12.7 percent reduction. The total reported recreational boating accidents decreased from 4,515 to 4,062, a 10 percent decrease.
The fatality rate for 2013 of 4.7 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels reflected a 13 percent decrease from the previous year's rate of 5.4 deaths per 100,000 registered recreational vessels. Property damage totaled approximately $39 million.
The report states alcohol use was the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents; it was listed as the leading factor in 16 percent of deaths. Operator inattention, improper lookout, operator inexperience, excessive speed and machinery failure ranked as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
Where the cause of death was known, 77 percent of fatal boating accident victims drowned; of those drowning victims, 84 percent were not wearing a life jacket. Where boating instruction was known, 20 percent of deaths occurred on vessels where the operator had received boating safety instruction. The most common types of vessels involved in reported accidents were open motorboats, personal watercraft and cabin motorboats.
Top take-aways about boating accidents:
- Don't drink and boat
- Wear life jackets
- Learn basic lifesaving skills
You can find first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and other emergency lifesaving courses near you with the American Heart Association's ECC (Emergency Cardiovascular Care) Class Connector tool online at americanheart.org.
People can get dehydrated any time of year, but it's much more common in the summer months, when they are active outdoors in the warm sun. Heatstroke is the most severe form of dehydration. That's when your internal temperature rises to dangerously high levels. Your skin gets hot, but you stop sweating. Someone with heatstroke may pass out, have hallucinations, or suffer seizures.
Preventing dehydration and heatstroke couldn't be easier:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
- Take regular breaks in the shade
- Try to schedule your most vigorous outdoor activities for times when the heat isn't so strong, such as early morning or late afternoon
For persons suffering more serious dehydration or heatstroke, follow these instructions:
- Get the person indoors
- Have person lie down
- Cool person using ice packs and cool cloths
If the person is not showing signs of improvement after these basic steps, they may need to be transported to the ER for further treatment and IV fluids.
The percentage of adults nationwide who got at least one sunburn during the preceding year rose from 31.8% in 1999 to 33.7% in 2004, according to the CDC. Your risk for melanoma doubles if you've had just five sunburns in your life.
To avoid a sunburn:
- Wearing sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats
- Avoid mid-day sun exposure
If you do get a sunburn:
- Drink water or juice to replace lost fluids
- Soak the burn in cool water for a few minutes or apply a cool, wet cloth
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever (i.e. acetaminophen)
- Treat itching with an OTC antihistamine cream or a spray like diphenhydramine (i.e. Benadryl)
- Apply an antibiotic ointment or an aloe cream with emollients that soften and soothe
Food poisoning puts about 300,000 people in the hospital every year, hitting its peak in the summer months. You don't want diarrhea to be the souvenir of your family's annual summer picnic.
To prevent food poisoning, follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's advice to:
- Clean -- Wash your hands as well as the surfaces where you'll be preparing foods.
- Separate -- Wrap raw meat securely and keep it stored away from other food items.
- Cook -- Bring along a meat thermometer. Grilling meat browns it very fast on the outside, but that doesn't mean it's safe on the inside. Steaks should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees, ground beef and pork to 160 degrees, and poultry to 165 degrees.
- Chill -- Keep everything refrigerated as long as possible. Store perishable picnic items in an insulated cooler packed with ice, and follow the "last in, first out" rule -- whatever you're going to eat first should go at the top of the cooler.
If you have a mild case of food poisoning, follow these steps:
- Avoid solid foods
- Stick with small, frequent drinks of clear liquid to stay hydrated.
- Once the nausea and vomiting have eased, you can try bringing food back into your diet -- slowly and in small, bland portions
- If symptoms persist for more than a couple days (or more than 24 hours in small kids), see a doctor.
Nearly 9,000 individuals were injured by fireworks in 2009, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, and two were killed. The safest way to watch fireworks is at a professionally sponsored display.
Take these precautions:
- Keep a hose or fire extinguisher handy to put out small fires
- Keep children away from fireworks, including sparklers. (A sparkler can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees -- hot enough to melt some types of metals.)
To care for a fireworks burn, wrap it in a clean towel or T-shirt saturated with cool water and get to an emergency room to have the injury checked out.
Three in 100 adults in the United States (nearly 7 million people) have life-threatening allergies to insect stings, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
To stay free of bees (and other stinging insects, including mosquitoes) when outdoors, avoid heavy perfumes and scents (especially florals), wear light-colored clothing with no floral patterns (stinging insects are attracted to dark colors and flowers), and guard food and sugary drinks like sodas.
Most people who get stung will just have pain, tenderness, itchiness, and swelling at the sting site. To treat a milder reaction, take acetaminophen for the pain and an antihistamine for hives and swelling. (This works for mild reactions to mosquito bites as well.)
But see a doctor or go to the ER immediately when you have:
- Hives, itchiness, and swelling over large areas of your body
- Tightness in the chest or trouble breathing
- Swelling of the tongue or face
- Dizziness or feeling you will pass out
So, as long as you hydrate properly before mowing your lawn. As long as you don't set off fireworks into a beehive. As long as you wear sunscreen on your boat. As long as you do all of these activities before or after eating a large picnic lunch... you should be fine. As long as you have all of our tips handy. Have a great summer!
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