Warm weather and longer days will bring many Americans outdoors for cookouts, pool parties and more. But long weekends ― we’re looking at you, Memorial Day ― also lead to more trips to urgent care or even the emergency room, according to experts. In fact, a 2015 study from researchers at Brown University found that heat-related illness alone can ratchet emergency department visits in the summertime.
The risk for issues like drowning and sports injuries go up in the hotter seasons, according to Dr. Christopher M. McStay, chief of clinical operations and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. And they’re usually all preventable.
We asked doctors to explain the most common reasons why patients end up in their offices during summer months ― and what can be done to prevent you or a loved one from being among them.
Fewer than 1,000 Americans die each year due to heat-related illness, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But plenty more experience the more mild symptoms of too much sun exposure, which include nausea, dizziness, headaches and confusion.
“Be mindful of the temperature, stay hydrated and avoid being outside for prolonged periods of time if the temperature is high ― especially during the hottest time of the day,” Kort told HuffPost, noting that the warmest hours are usually between 2 and 4 p.m.
“We see a big spike in drowning,” Perno told HuffPost. “When you have a lot of adults together, you’d think there would be more people watching the kids but what happens is people are distracted: Talking, drinking, partying, having fun and no one is watching the kids.”
Drowning is the second most common cause of death by unintentional injury, behind car accidents, among children ages 1-4 years-old, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Children are also more likely to drown in a swimming pool than anywhere else.
Children may try to touch the fires and adults make the common mistake of squirting lighter fluid onto hot coals. Be safe about it: Apply lighter fluid to coals when they aren’t lit, letting the fluid soak in, McStay suggests.
Gastrointestinal issues frequently bring people to the emergency room during warmer months, according to Kort. In fact, food-borne illnesses peak in the summer months, since hot temperatures and humid conditions provide the optimum breeding ground for bacteria to multiply rapidly, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
“[It’s] commonly seen after a summer barbecue, where the food has not been properly cooked or may have been left out in the heat. Or when fruits and vegetables have not been washed properly,” Kort said.
Treatment for these injuries typically requires a little home care, Kort said. Rest the body, ice the injury, compress the body part and elevate the injured area. But if something feels seriously wrong or keeps getting worse, head to the doctor as soon as possible.
With long days spent outdoors, it’s common to see irritations from wild plants like poison ivy, sumac and oak. Insect and tick bites are also common and, in some cases of infection, may require an antibiotic, Kort said.
This year, in particular, may bring with it more tick bites and tick-borne diseases than previous summers. And Zika virus, though currently out of the news cycle, may be poised to come back in some states.
Keep an eye on any bumps or swelling that does not go away or grows in size. And learn some expert-backed tips to keep yourself safe from ticks and mosquitoes.
While most sunburns don’t require a trip to the hospital, some do. In 2013, there were nearly 34,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. due to serious sunburns, according to recent research in Dermatology. Go to the doctor if your sunburn results in blistering or is accompanied by nausea, confusion, headache, extreme pain or chills. You should also head to the doctor if at-home remedies such as applying aloe vera or taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen does not help after a couple of days.