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A summer survival guide for health emergencies

Disasters and AccidentsHealthUniversity of Maryland Medical CenterFlu

Ah, summer. A time for all sorts of fun activities — hikes, cookouts, pool days, bike rides and more. And ow, summer. A time for all kinds of seasonal injuries and health emergencies. such as burns from the grill, tick bites, heat stroke and swimmers ear.

Be prepared with our Summer Survival Guide — we identify nine common summer ailments, explain what they look like and detail how to treat them. Our focus is on how to respond, but doctors note that the best way to enjoy your summer is by practicing prevention: wear sunscreen and bug spray, cover up when hiking in the woods and drink lots of water on hot days.

For those with pets, we've included information on what to do when your four-legged friend suffers similar injuries or problems.

Keep this guide handy — and get out there and enjoy the season.

Bee stings

What it looks like: A small red mark will appear, and there may be a stinger visible. You'll feel a sharp sting, but generally, you'll know you've been stung if you see the bee.

What to do: Use tweezers to scrape or pull the stinger out of the skin, says Dr. Brian J. Browne, chair of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of the Emergency Department at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He then advises mixing a meat tenderizer rub with a little water to form a paste and applying it to the sting — a trick of the trade that he has found to be very effective on stings and ant bites. If you start to have an allergic reaction and experience hives or shortness of breath, go to the emergency room or contact your physician.

What not to do: Bees are often found together near flowers or food. If you get stung, try to remain calm so as not to aggravate any other nearby stingers. Definitely don't try to destroy a hive.

Burns

What it looks like: Burns of all kinds are seen in the summer — first degree sunburns, as well as second and third degree burns caused by the sun, grills, fireworks or boat motors. First-degree burns cause the skin to turn red. They can also make skin hot to the touch. Second and third degree burns will produce blisters and could seriously damage skin.

What to do: Many burns can be treated at home. Browne advises immediately cooling the burn by running the affected area under tap water. He likened skin burns to cooking meat — it continues to cook even after it's removed from the heat — so you'll want to be sure to cool the area immediately by immersing it in water or allowing water to pour over it. If the burn looks serious, consider seeing a doctor. Burns that might require a second look are ones that cover joints (like wrists, elbows or knees) or that are on hands, face or feet, Browne says. A doctor should see any burn that covers a significant area of skin, or one that appears to be infected. For first degree sunburns, apply an aloe lotion or gel to soothe the pain. For burns that blister, apply an over-the-counter burn cream and wrap the area with a bandage to prevent infection, Browne says.

What not to do: Avoid popping a blistered burn, as it leaves the area open to infection, Browne says. If it does pop, he advises carefully removing torn skin, applying burn cream and covering the area with a bandage.

Dehydration

What it looks like: A person who is dehydrated will likely be complaining of thirst, headache, shortness of breath and overall weakness, says Dr. Michael Zimring, director of travel medicine at Mercy Medical Center.

What to do: Drink water. If symptoms are severe, consider a trip to the emergency room for an IV.

What not to do: Zimring cautions against drinking just any liquid to rehydrate. Caffeine in sodas and tea, as well as alcohol in beer or wine, can actually act as dehydrating agents and add to the problem.

Heat Stroke

What it looks like: Heat stroke victims will be fatigued and weak and will also feel confused or be unconscious, Zimring says. The main difference between the less-serious heat exhaustion and heat stroke is the change in mental status — a heat exhaustion victim will feel weak but will have a normal mental status and be awake and alert, Zimring says.

What to do: If the victim is unconscious, Zimring advises that you call 911 or go straight to an emergency room. He recommends that you immediately start cooling down the body by going to a cool area indoors or in the shade and using a mister or spray bottle of water. Ice packs should be applied to the inner groin and underarms.

What not to do: Don't submerge the body in cold water — the bath will constrict blood vessels and only allow the surface of the body to get cold, Zimring says.

Poison Ivy

What it looks like: Poison ivy is a three-leafed plant that, when it comes into contact with skin, causes redness, itching, swelling and blisters. Often the rash creates lines or strands on the skin from they way it brushed against the body.

What to do: If you know you came into contact with the plant, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water, Zimring says. If you catch it in the first 10 minutes, you may avoid getting poison ivy. If you don't catch it in time and the rash appears, he recommends two things: first, if the area infected is small, apply an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, like cortisone. Second, if a widespread or sensitive area is infected, make an appointment to see your physician — a steroid injection or pill might be prescribed. Zimring noted that any clothes or animals that come into contact with poison ivy should be washed immediately. Clothes can carry traces of the plant for months, as can household pets.

What not to do: Don't scratch at the rash — picking at it can open wounds and lead to infection.

Scrapes and abrasions

What it looks like: Scrapes come in many forms, from deep wounds to skinned knees.

What to do: The first step is cleaning the wound and assessing the severity, Browne says. Use soap and water to clear the area of dirt and debris. If the wound is a deep separated laceration that needs to be pushed closed, or if the bleeding won't stop, Browne advises seeing a doctor. If the wound seems superficial, a good cleaning and a bandage should do the trick. Browne says not to abide be the "it needs air to heal" theory; instead, keep it covered to prevent infection. He recommends cleaning the area and putting on a new bandage at least once a day.

What not to do: Don't overdo it with the peroxide. Browne says peroxide works well for cleaning wounds, but it's not good to pour into a deep cut, or for soaking.

Anaphylactic Shock

What it looks like: Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction that can be the result of stings, bites, ingesting an allergen or more. Zimring says symptoms include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, abdominal pain, itching and hives.

What to do: If symptoms include shortness of breath, Zimring suggests calling 911 or heading to the ER. If hives appear first try taking an over-the-counter anti-allergy medicine, like Benadryl. If you're prone to allergic reactions and carry an Epipen, use it.

What not to do: Don't ignore it — severe allergic reactions can be fatal.

Swimmers Ear

What it looks like: Browne says swimmers ear is an infection in the outer ear canal. Symptoms can include irritation, mild pain in the ear and slight dripping of clear liquid.

What to do: If you're certain it's swimmers ear, Browne says a drop of vinegar has been known to be an excellent at-home cure. But he cautions that the vinegar could irritate other ear infections, so it's worth being checked out by a professional. Prescription ear drops may be advised.

What not to do: Don't hop back in the pool, as it can irritate the infection more.

Tick bite

What it looks like: A tick is a small insect that fastens itself onto humans or animals and feeds on their blood. Typically, there will be a small red area that looks like a bite with the tick's body visible on the skin.

What to do: Zimring says it's important to immediately remove the tick and clean the area. Use tweezers, and grasp as close to the head as possible without squeezing the bloated tick body. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soapy water. If the tick bite is accompanied by flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches, headache), or if there is a reddish rash surrounding the bite, it's important to see a doctor, as it could be a sign of a tick-borne infection, like lyme disease, Zimring says. If the tick has been in your skin for more than 24 hours, or if you're unsure how long it has been there, remove the tick and call your physician, as a preventative early dose of antibiotic might be recommended.

What not to do: Don't cover the tick with nail polish to try to suffocate it. It is important to get it out of the body.

911 for your cat or dog

Summer sickness isn't limited to humans — watch for these common hot weather pet problems.

Paw burns or cuts

What it looks like: Your pet will likely be limping or avoiding walking on the affected paw, says Kim Hammond, owner and director of Falls Road Animal Hospital. The paw might be red, and the pad might be cracked, he said.

What to do: If the pad is torn, raw or bleeding, Hammond recommends you take your pet to its vet for a checkup, as this can lead to infection. Pad burns aren't always serious, but they're difficult to treat, as bandages typically need to be applied, and animals can't easily be told not to lick or mess with the affected area.

What not to do: Don't ignore limping or tenderness to your pet's limbs. The symptoms are general and could point to a more serious condition, like a torn ligament.

Heat exhaustion or dehydration

What it looks like: Your pet will look lethargic, Hammond says. A dog will likely be sitting down with its tongue hanging out, and the end of the tongue might be starting to swell, he says. Severe symptoms include collapsing or the mucus membranes turning bright red.

What to do: Get your pet into a cool space with wind blowing on it. Hammond recommends getting a dog inside in the air conditioning, providing it with water and having a fan blow air on it. If the dog collapses or appears to be having trouble breathing, take it to a vet immediately.

What not to do: Avoid taking short-snouted dogs on walks when it's too hot or humid outside.

Giardia or Parasite

What it looks like: Your pet will be vomiting or will have diarrhea, Hammond says.

What to do: Hammond suggests taking your pet to see a vet or dropping off a stool sample with the vet. Animals can get parasites from drinking creek water, a common activity in the summer.

What not to do: Don't write it off as a common sickness — some parasites can be passed from dogs to humans, so you might be putting the people in your home at risk.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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