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Summertime, when the living is risky

It's summer — time to get burned by the sun, stung by a stingray, poisoned by undercooked chicken and more. So much more. There are plenty of summer-centric mishaps that send people to the emergency room or the doctor, and yet, in many instances, those trips are avoidable.

"It's basically all about water and sun," says Dr. Mark Morocco, clinical professor of emergency medicine at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. And with a little too much alcohol added in, that can lead to big problems.

The leading cause of injury death for children ages 1 to 4 is drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Care and common sense should apply. So here's a note to the adults in charge: "Keep your kids within your sight and within an arm's reach," Morocco says.

The most unusual danger we've heard about involves those wire-bristled brushes for the barbecue grill. Turns out that the bristles can get stuck on the grill and then in a burger and sometimes get eaten, says Dr. Bardia Anvar, director of Valley Urgent Care in Northridge. The danger is that a bristle can perforate the gastrointestinal tract, which could require surgery to repair, he says. So take a good look at the grill before slapping the food on it. Or try a stone cleaning block.

And you might want to cut back on the gin and tonics.


Is it possible that someone missed the clarion calls to slather skin with high-SPF creams? Apparently yes. Just look those who fall asleep on the beach as people only to wake as lobsters.

"Part of that is the journey we all make as adolescents," Morocco says. Despite a thousand warnings, they get burned and react with, "Oh, my God, what do I do?" For the most part, there's not much the ER can do. Morocco suggests an over-the-counter pain reliever and aloe gel (more comforting if kept in the fridge).

So, for the 1,001st time, use sunscreen every day to protect against burns, cancer and old-looking skin — an SPF of at least 30 on a sunscreen that is labeled "broad spectrum."

"Lots of people look at the cost and don't apply enough," says Dr. Robert Kimball, president of the board of the Urgent Care Assn. of America. Use enough to fill a shot glass to cover the body, he says

Drinking and ...

"Avoid mixing alcohol or drugs, any motorized vehicle and anything that explodes," Morocco says. That includes fireworks and barbecues. Drinking is often the cause of — or at least a contributor to — bike accidents, twisted ankles and falls, and car accidents.

Food poisoning

When you cart raw chicken and burgers in the same cooler with vegetables, you create the potential for bacterial cross-contamination. And you shouldn't put the cooked meat back on the same platter that held the raw meat.

Then there's the "attack of the killer mayonnaise," which Morocco notes can occur if dishes such as potato salad are left too long in the sun.

Food-borne illnesses can take six hours to show up — with chills, fever, vomiting and diarrhea — so people don't always realize the cause.

Creatures ...

Stingrays are populous, especially south of Santa Monica, and their stings are very painful. The treatment: Plunge your foot into the hottest water you can tolerate to break down the toxins, Morocco says, adding that such injuries rarely require an ER visit.

Don't forget about bees, hornets and wasps. People allergic to their stings — that's about 2 million Americans — should carry Epi pens, doctors say. Without them, an allergic reaction can include shock and the closing of the throat, which is potentially life-threatening.

Anvar also warns people about applying insect repellents containing alcohol if they're going to be near a bonfire or barbecue. The alcohol could catch fire and lead to a severe burn.

We humans are not the only ones who relish the sun. Hikers in Southern California should keep their eyes and ears out for rattlesnakes, the California Poison Control System warns. Bites are rare, but even babies have the venom. The bites are painful and, in some cases, deadly.

Wear boots, stay on trails. And — not that you'd have to tell many of us — don't touch snakes in the wild. "If you are bitten by a rattlesnake, immediate medical attention is critical," says Dr. Cyrus Rangan, assistant medical director for the Poison Control System.

... and plants

Kimball says the first thing to do about poison oak is to avoid it. "If you realize you got into it, you have about 20 minutes to get it off your skin, with soap and water," before you'll get that itchy rash. A severe case might require a visit to urgent care or your doctor for treatment with steroids.


The heat itself is not often a big problem in Southern California, Morocco says. Overheating is usually treated by drinking water and getting out of the sun. But if someone is acting loopy or bizarrely, that's a case for the ER.

Anvar notes that clothes or tanning preparations can sometimes block sweat glands, leading to an itchy rash. To treat, take off the clothing and turn on a fan; drying agents containing zinc also can help.

With so many hazards, it might seem that summer is an ER's top time. But Morocco says no; that honor goes to January and February, when flu is king.


Twitter: @mmacvean

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