By Dr. James Dwyer
White sandy beaches. Sunrise hikes. The sizzle of the barbecue grill.
For many of us, the warmer months mean family, fun and adventure. Yet the season can also bring unexpected dangers, from insect bites to heat stroke, with potentially serious consequences.
Here I’ll explain five spring and summer health hazards medical professionals often encounter – and how you can avoid them and improve your safety.
1. Accidents. Sure, the feeling of soft grass or sand between your toes is appealing. However, I see a tremendous increase in cuts and lacerations to feet during the warmer months. To protect your feet, always wear shoes when walking outside.
More people hit the road in the warmer months. Unfortunately, more people on the road means more car accidents. Always wear your seat belt, even in the backseat. Make sure children are properly secured in car seats.
2. Always Check Your Backseat for Children. Did you know that three dozen children are killed each year from being left alone in hot cars? Sometimes busy or exhausted parents either forget they didn’t drop off their child as planned or get distracted. Get in the habit of always checking the backseat before leaving your car.
3. Heat-related Illnesses. Hot, humid weather leads to an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, fatigue, fogginess and even fainting. Heat stroke can cause a high body temperature, headache, nausea, red skin that feels hot to the touch and an altered mental state.
To avoid heat-related illnesses, stay hydrated, avoid direct sunlight during hot weather, wear loose clothing and always apply sunscreen.
4. Insects. Bugs can lead to bigger problems than a ruined picnic. When it comes to bugs, the biggest danger in the Hudson Valley is tick-borne illnesses. The best-known of these is Lyme disease, symptoms of which include fatigue, joint pain, muscle ache, fever and a distinctive “bull’s-eye” rash.
Another tick-borne illness, babesiosis, presents like malaria, with symptoms including high fever, anemia and body aches and chills. To avoid ticks, wear long pants when hiking, tuck the bottoms of your pants into your shoes and use insect repellent with DEET.
Always check yourself and kids for ticks after outdoor activities. Should you find an engorged tick on your body, a doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics and monitor for symptoms.
5. Food-borne Illnesses. Everyone loves a barbecue or picnic. Unfortunately, so do bacteria and other parasites. Increased heat and humidity allow bacteria to grow on food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture cautions that food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. When the temperature is above 90 degrees, don’t leave food out for more than one hour. Always have a cooler with ice available so you can store leftover perishables so they don’t spoil and become unsafe to eat.
In addition to the aforementioned hazards, it’s important to know that COVID-19 remains a threat. The Pfizer vaccine is available for those age 12 and up. Now is the time to get vaccinated in advance of a potential fall and winter resurgence of COVID-19. Book your appointment today at Northwell.edu/BookNow.
Dr. James Dwyer is chair of emergency medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital.