In emergency rooms, summertime is known as trauma season.
“Because people are outdoors more in the warmer months of summer, we tend to see more outdoor injury-related visits from adults and children to our emergency department than at any other time of the year,” said Dr. Gerald Beltran of Baystate Medical Center's department of emergency medicine.
Dr. Beltran offers the following expert tips to keep you safe and healthy this summer.
1. Make water safety your priority
Swimming is one of the most popular summer activities along with boating on our spectacular Massachusetts waterways.
“To prevent drowning, children need to be supervised at all times around bodies of water and home pools need to be secured with barriers high enough so that a child can’t climb over them,” said Dr. Beltran, noting drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 1-4.
“We also see cases of people fracturing their necks from diving into shallow water, whether in the backyard pool or at the local pond. What can happen is that when a person breaks their neck, they lose control of their arms and drown,” he added.
He also noted that if they survive their initial neck injury, these patients may have permanent neurological damage and can lose the use of their arms or legs.
Make water safety your priority by enrolling in American Red Cross home pool safety, water safety, first aid and CPR/AED courses to prevent and respond to injuries.
2. Don't drink and drive
Just as you have a responsibility behind the wheel of a car, the same holds true when driving a boat or other personal watercraft like jet skis, or on land riding a motorcycle.
“Obey the rules of the road and the waterways by not speeding. When boating, keep a safe distance from other boaters and swimmers,” said Dr. Beltran. “And don’t drink and drive.”
“We have seen many fracture injuries when a boat hits the shoals and people are tossed out of the craft, or when two jet skiers crash into one another,” he added.
3. Wear a helmet
When riding a motorcycle or bicycle, don’t leave home without your helmet and be very aware of the other drivers who may not see you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), helmets reduce the risk of death by 37% and the risk of head injury by 69% for motorcyclists. Massachusetts has a mandatory helmet law for motorcyclists and “any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or any public right-of-way shall wear a helmet.”
In addition to wearing a helmet, parents should teach their children the following basic safety rules to keep bicycle riding enjoyable and safe: ride on the right side with traffic, use appropriate hand signals, and respect traffic signal.
“Motorists also need to be more aware of bicyclists and people out walking on roads this summer,” said Dr. Beltran.
All-terrain vehicles are another concern during the summer months. According to Massachusetts OHV Laws and Regulations, “all recreational vehicle operators and those being towed are required to wear an approved, securely fastened helmet at all times.”
4. Don't burn the food – or yourself
Each year, thousands of people suffer burns from fires started by grills.
“Whether gas or charcoal, keep children several feet away from the burning hot grill and the grill several feet away from a house or other structures,” said Dr. Beltran.
Also, when using an accelerant, such as charcoal lighter fluid or starting a gas grill, Dr. Beltran warned to keep a safe distance between you and the grill when initially lighting it as the fumes may ignite and if you are too close to the grill, you can get burned.
“Gathering around the fire pit has also become a popular practice today when entertaining. Consider them just as a campfire and keep children a safe distance from them so they don’t trip and fall into the fire pit,” said Dr. Beltran.
5. Protect your ears and eyes when mowing the lawn
The Baystate emergency medicine physician also warned about lawnmower accidents, which are common in the summer for both adults and children, resulting in serious injuries to the fingers, hands and feet, including amputations. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, each year some 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors.
“Debris can be thrown by the mower, possibly leading to blunt trauma. Always wear hearing protection and eye protection when using mowers, they may assist in preserving sight and hearing,” said Dr. Beltran.
“And, keep your children indoors when you are mowing the lawn and be sure you don’t operate your mower barefoot,” he added.
6. Never leave a child alone in a car
With the many stories heard each summer about children dying of heat stroke after being left in a hot car, Dr. Beltran said he would be remiss if he didn’t remind everyone “to never ever leave a child alone in a car whatever the temperature hot or cold.”
7. Take precautions to avoid falls
A trauma-related injury from children falling out of open windows is another summer safety concern.
“Screens are not enough to keep children from falling out of windows. Parents need to install window guards or stops, which keep windows from opening more than four inches,” said Dr. Beltran.
Summer falls are another big risk for adults, especially for seniors who are susceptible year-round, and for children, too.
“Adults are at risk while outdoors climbing ladders to paint the house or trim a tree, while kids can fall at the playground around jungle gyms and slides,” said Dr. Beltran, who also cited slipping on wet surfaces around the pool as another hazard.
8. Be a savvy hiker
Even something otherwise healthy as hiking, a popular summer and fall activity, can turn tragic.
“Hikers can fall and break a leg or get lost in the woods and find themselves spending a cold night outdoors, where they can develop hypothermia. Additionally, an otherwise healthy appearing person might develop chest pains while hiking, not realizing they have an underlying heart condition. A person with asthma or COPD could have their illness triggered by pollen or the exertion during an outdoor activity, and if they have an episode while hiking and have forgotten their inhaler, it could lead to tragic circumstances,” said Dr. Beltran.
Also, with increased bear sightings today, it’s a good idea to be “bear savvy.”
“It goes without saying that you never want to provoke or approach a bear, especially a mother and her cubs. Hike with others and make noise so a bear can hear you coming and hopefully scamper off. Also consider purchasing bear pepper spray and learning how to use it properly,” said Dr. Beltran.
“A little caution and taking the necessary precautions can go a long way in making your summer more injury free and enjoyable for both you and your children,” he added.