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Summer Safety: Avoid Heat Stroke, Sunburns and Poison Ivy

yellow umbrella in the sun

Sprains, fractures and allergic reactions are all common reasons why people end up in the emergency department during the summer months. As temperatures rise, heat-related illnesses ranging from dehydration to heat stroke are a real cause for concern. Proper prevention can help keep you out of the hospital.

Craig Mittleman, MD, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Emergency Department Chair, Christopher Davison, MD, Chief of Emergency Medicine at Greenwich Hospital and Andrew Ulrich, MD, Vice-Chair of Clinical Operations at Yale New Haven Hospital offered tips on how to stay safe this summer.

Symptoms of heat stroke

“Heat-related injuries are on a real spectrum from a minor sunburn all the way up to heat stroke,” said Dr. Ulrich.

That is why it’s important to pay attention to early warning signs. If you are thirsty, drink plenty of fluids and get out of the heat.

Heat stroke happens when a person’s body temperature elevates above a safe level and maintains there, becoming the most severe heat-related illness. It can progress to coma and even death if not addressed. Signs of heat stroke can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Lack of sweat and dry to the touch

Unfortunately, someone experiencing heat stroke may not realize they need help. If there is a heat wave, check on elderly neighbors. If you see someone with symptoms, get them to the emergency room. Remember never leave pets or kids in a hot car.

Sunburn Relief

Sunburn is within that spectrum of heat-related illnesses but is easier to spot. A first-degree burn may show up as your typical sunburn that can be treated with aloe. With a second-degree burn, you may start to develop blisters. Leave blisters alone and keep an eye on them. Redness, puss and fever could be the sign of an infection. While third-degree burns are rare with sunburns, they do happen.

Treatment for poison ivy

poison ivy sign

When it comes to poison ivy, keep an eye out for the poison ivy plant, which you can identify because it has three smaller leaflets, and avoid it as much as possible. If you do get poison ivy:

  • Do not scratch the infected area
  • Wash your clothes and towels
  • Try over the counter lotions or steroid creams

If you get a bad reaction on your face, in your eyes or in your groin, call your primary care doctor.

Treating a bee sting and preventing bug bites

If you’re not allergic to bee stings, ice and elevation can help give you some relief. If you have a known allergy that caused anaphylaxis or hospitalization, always keep an EpiPen nearby.

“Just because you’ve been stung by bees in the past and not had a reaction, does not mean you may not get a more severe reaction on a subsequent bee sting. There are many different types of bees and there are many different types of toxins," Dr. Mittleman said.

You should call 911 if you get:

  • Hives
  • Lip swelling
  • Tongue swelling

Dr. Mittleman said you don’t want to drive yourself to the hospital because if your reaction gets more severe while you’re behind the wheel, you could get into an accident.

There is also the risk of mosquito borne illnesses in Connecticut, including eastern equine encephalitis, or EEEV, a rare illness that can cause neurological issues or even death. To protect yourself from mosquito bites, wear light, protective clothing, use bug spray and use more caution in the late afternoon and evening when bugs are more active.

Ticks are also extremely prevalent in this part of the country. Use tick repellant for pets, wear protective clothing and always do a skin check after hiking or gardening.

Water safety for kids

One of the most important things families can do to stay safe this summer is to practice proper water safety.

“There’s a lot of pools in the area. We have the ocean right here and unfortunately every year there’s someone who drowns because all it takes is a few minutes to lose track of somebody,” Dr. Davison says.

He encourages swim lessons and if families have a pool, do an observation swim test when other children are over.

“If you ask any kid if they can swim, they’re all going to say yes. How many actually can, you don’t know. I would not rely on their word,” he said.

At the beach, always tell others where you are going and be careful of your surroundings. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble.