Safety tips take the sting out of summer
BY KAREN HUELSMAN - For Sun-Times Media
A few precautions can limit your risk of insect bites and stings and other hazards of summer.
Now that summer is here, nobody wants to be stuck indoors nursing an injury that could have been prevented or treated quickly at the hospital. James Fedinec, MD, who is the medical director of the Emergency Room at Valley West Community Hospital in Sandwich, shares tips for treating some of the top summer hazards and how to recognize when you need to make the trip to the hospital.
Bee and wasp stings: As there is no sure-fire way to avoid getting stung, Dr. Fedinec recommends treating stings and bites at home by washing the site, using a topical antibiotic and applying ice to minimize swelling. Even people who don't have allergic reactions to stings face the risk of a sting becoming infected. "If your skin becomes red and tender, if you see any red streaks or if you run a fever, you've got the signs of an infection. If you develop any shortness of breath, develop any chest or neck tightness or your face or lip begins to swell then these are signs of an allergic reaction," he said. "That needs to be treated by a doctor."
Swimming: The buddy system and adult supervision for all children are hallmarks of safe swimming. "I don't like to hear about pre-teens swimming without an adult around,'' he said. And he pointed out that older adults, who may have weaker muscles or have balance issues, need to be sure they are swimming with other people around who can call for help.
Extreme Heat: "There are a lot of levels of heat-related injuries," Dr. Fedinec said. At the "treat at home" level, heat sufferers develop cramps that can be treated with rest, fluids and sports drinks. But heat exhaustion and heat stroke are different matters that involve fevers. "Any elevated fever may indicate heat exhaustion, and if the body temperature nears 104 degrees, then the patient may be confused, have balance problems and can develop seizures. These people need to be seen in an emergency department."
When the outdoor temperatures and humidity really soar, Dr. Fedinec also advised families and neighbors "keep an eye on the elders in their communities. Check that older people have their air-conditioning turned on," he said. "They don't always realize how warm they are."
Lacerations: Of course you can get a deep cut any time of the year, but there is no need to suffer a lasting injury preparing steaks for the grill. "If a cut bleeds for 15 minutes or longer or you can see a fat layer of tissue under a cut, these are clues that you may need stitches," he said.
And the subject of cuts points up the need to stay current on tetanus immunizations, he added. The shots do have to be repeated every five to 10 years.
Mowing: "If you are cutting grass near gravel or any other kind of debris, you are at risk for an eye injury. The way to avoid that is to wear some kind of eye protection." Although in general lawn mowers are getting safer, the blades are still very sharp and get very hot. "So you have to wait for them to cool off if you need to remove a clog," he added.
Fireworks: "We want everybody to stay away from them," he said. "This is a case where truly only the professionals should be involved." Dr. Fedinec said that every emergency department sees burns, eye and hand injuries in the summer from fireworks, and that all of those amateur injuries are avoidable.
"When in doubt about any kind of injury, we will check it out," urged the doctor who has been in emergency medicine since 1996. "We are always happy to say 'hi' and 'bye' if that's all that's needed, so patients should feel comfortable stopping by at any time," Dr. Fedinec said.
The emergency department at Valley West Community Hospital is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is staffed by doctors certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine, as well as specially trained nurses.