Mother Nature smacked New York’s Southern Tier with a mighty wallop last winter, but now it’s time to get up, get out, and enjoy the warm, summer days. Backyard barbecues, bike rides and lazy afternoons at the pool are calling!
What you don’t want is to spend even one glorious afternoon in the emergency department (ED) due to injury or illness. Yet hazards loom when outdoor temperatures soar. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 percent of all ED visits occur during summer – edging out the other three seasons.
To ensure a healthier, safer summer, here are several common warm-weather hazards and tips to help avoid them.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Summer abounds with opportunities for dining al fresco, backyard barbecues and cookouts around the campfire. But it’s no picnic when these happy occasions result in food-related illnesses, which can trigger diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. Unfortunately, food-borne illness escalates during hot, humid summer months. This happens for two reasons:
1. Bacteria, present in soil, air and water, as well as humans and animals, grow faster when temperatures hit 90° to 110°F and the humidity soars.
2. Safety controls in the kitchen, such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities, aren’t part of outdoor dining adventures.
To help safeguard your outdoor banquets, step one is to keep cold foods cold in an ice-filled, well-insulated cooler. Full coolers stay cold longer, so replenish ice as it melts, and keep the cooler lid closed. If the afternoon gets away from you, pitch perishable foods left in the hot summer sun for more than two hours or for one hour if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Raw meats should never be left under the hot sun.
It’s also important to remember that outdoor cooking increases risk for cross-contamination between foods because there are few, if any, resources to wash utensils, dishes and work surfaces with hot, soapy water as you prep food. This is particularly pertinent for meats, says Desiree Outlaw, a family nurse practitioner at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital. “When you transfer raw meat from its container and onto the grill, never put the cooked meat back into its original container. The raw juices in the container contaminate your meat. So you’ll want plenty of extra, clean serving platters on hand.”
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Dehydration is a chronic issue for the elderly — particularly as temps soar and sweat glands work overtime.
Mild dehydration can cause:
- Dryness of mouth
- Deep yellow or strong-smelling urine
- Cramping in limbs
- Sluggishness or sleepiness
Serious dehydration can cause:
- Low blood pressure
- Severe cramping and muscle contractions
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Heat exhaustion or heat stroke
“At about 50, the body’s ability to recognize thirst decreases and our kidneys lose some of their ability to regulate the body’s water supply. After 60, the proportion of body fluid to body weight naturally drops,” says Valentina Davydov, DO, a family medicine physician at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital. In addition, Dr. Davydov adds, some medications that elderly persons commonly take can increase risk for dehydration, such as diuretics for high blood pressure, antihistamines and certain psychiatric drugs. Some diseases, such as diabetes, can also increase risk for dehydration.
To stay hydrated under normal circumstances, begin with this formula: Take one-half of your body weight in pounds and drink the equivalent number of ounces of water daily. So a 150-pound woman needs 75 ounces of water daily, or at least nine 8-ounce glasses of water. On a hot day, even more water is called for.
Water is the preferred hydrator, and you want to avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages, both of which act as a diuretic and cause the kidneys to flush out more water. If you suspect mild-to-moderate dehydration, a sports drink will help replenish water and electrolytes. Severe dehydration, however, requires immediate medical attention.
Finally, here’s a free at-home test to tell if you’re properly hydrated. Just look at your urine. It should be clear or a pale yellow.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
For kids, cannonball contests, swimming laps, tag and water slides are synonyms for a great day in the pool — especially when temperatures soar. However, ignoring water safety rules introduces risk for serious accidents, including drowning or near-drowning.
Before letting a youngster take the plunge, note the numbers painted around the pool. These water depth markers tell you if the water is too shallow for diving off the side.
As for those brightly-colored water toys that kids love, Robert Auerbach, MD, of UHS Pediatrics at Vestal and Binghamton, offers a potentially life-saving message: “These toys help a child float and may help relieve water fears. However, these toys cannot save a life. They can drift away or unexpectedly deflate, and must never replace proper adult supervision. Instead, the rule is to never let a child swim without an adult present — or for adolescents, a swim buddy.”
Once in the water and fun has begun, the American Red Cross recommends that parents watch out for the “terrible too’s” — too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun and too much strenuous activity. All these scenarios increase risk for accidents and call for an immediate rest on dry land.
SLOW AND EASY WINS THE RACE
Come summer, one characteristic that bridges the generation gap, from Millenials to Baby Boomers, is the urge to race outdoors and jump back into fresh air activities — be it biking, hiking, swimming, tennis, jogging, team sports or whatever gets your heart pumping. However, if you’ve been hibernating all winter, take it slow and easy. “When you’re out of shape, you’re more prone to pulled muscles, sprains, strains, broken bones and tumbles — with the latter due to lost core strength,” says Micah Lissy, MD, a sports medicine specialist at UHS Orthopedics.
You want to gradually improve your range of motion, strength and endurance. The 10-percent rule is generally the way to go: increase your training program, pace or mileage no more than 10 percent per week. And if a medical condition kept you indoors all winter, consult your doctor or physical therapist before hitting the tennis courts or bike paths.
SUMMER GOT YOU DOWN?
UHS has Walk-in Centers in Vestal, Endicott and Chenango Bridge, where a provider can see you for minor injuries or illnesses without an appointment. Use the Find a Location feature on the UHS website to get addresses, directions and waiting times at each facility.
Dr. Lissy also stresses the importance of a dynamic warm-up, which after a long winter’s nap, is more important than ever. A proper warm-up prepares your body for exercise by gradually increasing your heart rate and loosening your muscles and joints. You also want to add balance and agility exercises to your routine to regain core strength, stability and coordination.
Finally, remember to check protective sports gear for wear and tear — especially your bike helmet. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute recommends replacing your helmet every five years. Pollution, UV light and weather can weaken a helmet over time.
Watch a video about when to use a UHS Walk-in Center vs. a hospital emergency department.