George Leach, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, says that he and his colleagues sometimes refer to trauma as “a summer disease.” Dr. Leach says certain injuries and illnesses are more common during warmer months because people are more active and spend more time outdoors. He shares the most common complaints he sees from his patients during the summertime and how you can have a healthier, safer summer.
1. Heat-related illnesses
Too much fun in the sun can lead to heat-related illnesses. One of the most common is heat stroke. It is most common in people who exercise vigorously outdoors in hot weather and in elderly populations. Signs include:
- Very little perspiration, despite the heat
- Dry mouth
Sun poisoning occurs when a person is severely sunburned and has symptoms similar to those of heat stroke. “We treat severe sunburn like we would treat burns from a grill or fireworks,” says Dr. Leach. “If your sunburn starts to blister over more than a small part of your body, you are no longer sweating or you experience nausea or vomiting, you may be at risk for heat stroke, too.”
Dr. Leach recommends calling 911 for help if you or a friend is confused and exhibits the above symptoms. While you wait for help, try these tips:
- Move to a shaded location
- Remove excess and/or tight clothing
- Place ice packs under the underarms, and on the neck and groin areas
- Mist water onto the skin
- Sit near a fan
- Drink cool water
2. Allergic reactions
Extra time outdoors means more exposure to insects and spiders. “If you are bitten or stung, redness and pain is usually normal,” Dr. Leach explains. “But if the redness or pain starts to spread or you start to feel sick or short of breath, you could be having a reaction.”
If you have suffered a serious allergic reaction to anything in the past, talk to your doctor about carrying an EpiPen with you. “An EpiPen is potentially life-saving,” says Dr. Leach.
Burns are also common in warmer months. Seek medical help if you exhibit any of these symptoms:
- Exhibits signs of shock
- Have other injuries
- For burns that affect muscle and/or bones
- Has burns that cover a large area of the body
- Difficulty breathing
- Has an altered level of consciousness, such as confusion, agitation or sleepiness
4. Food poisoning
Outdoor picnics and cookouts are a great way to catch up with friends, but when perishable food is exposed to high temperatures, it can lead to bacteria growth. “Symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting,” he says. Food poisoning is dangerous if you become very dizzy or dehydrated. If your symptoms are uncontrolled and frequent, you may need to make a trip to the ER.
To avoid food poisoning in the first place, wash your hands after handling raw meat, wash produce thoroughly before preparing it, use a meat thermometer when grilling and put away food within two hours after serving it.
5. Head injuries
“Any time you are doing any activity from an elevated distance above the ground, you should wear a helmet,” says Dr. Leach. “If you do suffer an injury, it’s worth getting it checked out if you are experiencing uncontrolled bleeding, severe headaches, vomiting or confusion. “If someone appears to have a head or neck injury, the best thing to do is have them lie flat on the ground with their head in a neutral position until help arrives,” he says.
6. Broken bones and falls
“There’s not a hard and fast rule, but if you hurt yourself and then feel severe pain, swelling and tenderness to the touch, that’s probably something we would X-ray at the hospital,” he says.
However, if the swelling isn’t significant and you only feel mild pain when moving or touching the affected body part, you probably don’t need to make a trip to the hospital. Instead, follow the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.
7. Water injuries
“The most common injuries we see are related to when people jump in shallow water, are diving where they shouldn’t, are roughhousing or are abusing alcohol,” says Dr. Leach.
8. Summer safety
“By making good decisions, you can stay out of trouble,” says Dr. Leach. “Use common sense: stay well-hydrated, wear sunscreen and limit yourself to moderate amounts of alcohol. However, if you feel like we should take a look at an injury, it is usually worth checking out.”
Piedmont has more options for getting the care you need, when you need it, from urgent care to 24/7 virtual visits from your smartphone or desktop, to same-day appointments and online scheduling. Visit piedmont.org/now to learn more about how you can get care on your time, in good time.