No matter how long and dreadful Philly winters seem to have become, chances are pretty good that the time for snow shoveling injuries is over.
OK, seriously, now is the time for illnesses and injuries that are far more typically associated with warm weather than cold weather.
“As winter turns into spring, we see illnesses like acute asthma exacerbation triggered by allergies,” says emergency physician Maria Halluska-Handy, MD, medical director of Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park. “Later on, we’ll see heat-related illnesses. This is also the time of year where we might see people who were at the same event come down with food-related illnesses.”
Bites and stings from other insects also might prompt a visit to the emergency room—and for people with severe allergies to insect stings, they can be a life-threatening emergency.
What types of warm-weather illnesses or injuries merit a trip to the emergency department? How can you avoid them?
Here’s some advice from Dr. Halluska-Handy on some of the warm weather emergencies the Elkins Park emergency department sees most commonly.
Heat-related injuries, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both serious, but one much more so than the other.
With heat exhaustion, a person might experience belly cramps, sweat profusely, become pale, appear confused, or have a rapid heartbeat.
Left unattended, heat exhaustion can progress to something potentially life threatening: heat stroke.
|Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park (EMCEP) Emergency Department|
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s ability to maintain a normal temperature (thermoregulatory mechanism) becomes overwhelmed and stops working. The skin of patients suffering heat stroke turns hot to the touch. They might experience a pounding headache. They might appear confused, as with heat exhaustion, but the more serious signs of heat stroke could include seizures—they might even become unconscious.
In classic heat stroke, patients will typically be older, with multiple medical problems, and they will be hot but not sweaty. However, in exertional heat stroke cases, patients will more frequently be young, healthy and in many cases will still be sweating.
Regardless, if a person has had heat exposure, is hot to the touch and confused, vomiting, or has an abnormal level of consciousness, he or she warrants prompt medical attention.
Dr. Halluska-Handy often sees heat-related illnesses among the elderly in particular, because peoples’ perception of temperature can become altered as they age. “They’ll keep the house closed up, and it becomes nice and hot,” she says. “To them, it doesn’t seem all that hot. In reality, it will be 120 degrees.”
Frequently, the reason behind that hot house or apartment also might also be rooted in simple economics. Even if the elderly have air conditioning, they might not use it. “It’s not cheap to run your air conditioning if you’re on a fixed income.”
Of course, the elderly are not alone in their susceptibility to heat-related illnesses. They can happen to anybody. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. Even better is prevention. Water is a key element. Generally speaking, Dr. Halluska-Handy says, “If you’re urinating a normal amount, and the urine is a light color, then you’re probably doing OK.”
To stay safe when the temperature starts to rise—as it has fairly recently—open your windows. Use fans or air conditioning. Check in on elderly neighbors, friends and relatives. Stay hydrated. Stay alert to possible changes in mental status, such as confusion, as this is always a symptom to take seriously.
A picnic is a warm-weather pleasure, but it can into something far less pleasurable if you don’t follow warm-weather food safety advice.
Cook meats thoroughly, says Dr. Halluska-Handy, “and keep raw meats away from cooked things.”
Potato salads, macaroni salads, and other traditional (and perishable) picnic salads need to be kept cold. If they’re left out in the heat, those salads can become breeding grounds for bacteria. “Don’t let foods stay out longer than one to two hours, if they’re perishable,” Dr. Halluska-Handy says.
And some advice for all you grill masters out there—remember to wash your hands.
Make sure your grill is in good working order. Keep the grill at least 10 feet away from anything flammable. And even though it should seem obvious, Dr. Halluska-Handy says, “Grilling is not OK to do in your garage.”
Some interesting grill injury facts and figures to keep in mind from the National Fire Protection Association:
- The peak month for grill fires is July. After that: May, June and August.
- Just under 9,000 home fires annually are caused by grilling.
- Thermal burns account for roughly half of all injuries involving grills.
Insect bites and stings
Insect bites can range from mild—localized pain, redness and swelling—to life-threatening.
Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to a sting or bite include: wheezing or difficulty breathing, rapid swelling around the mouth, eyes, throat or tongue, severe itching, fainting or dizziness and ultimately, loss of consciousness.
If you know you are allergic to insect bites and stings, always keep your EpiPen (an autoinjection device filled with epinephrine) with you. And if you or someone you know to be allergic is stung or bitten and experiences a severe reaction, says Dr. Halluska-Handy, “That’s a 911 call. That can’t wait.”