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How to Stay Out of the ER This Summer

The most overlooked summer safety tips.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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You've just left your friend's barbecue after having your fill of delicious hamburgers and dogs served hot off the grill. But cut to a few hours later, and you find yourself doubled over with stomach pain—severe enough to seek emergency care.

A trip to the emergency room (ER) isn't likely on your list of summer plans—but Dr. Robert Glatter, attending emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital, sees plenty of injuries like this one that could have easily been prevented. From orthopedic traumas to respiratory issues to eye and skin damage, he's tended to it all over the last decade and a half in the ER. Here's what he recommends for staying safe during all the fun summer plans your calendar holds—and what to do in case of an emergency.

Grillin' ain't easy

If you've been using a wire brush to scrape remnants off your grill, you'll want to consider an alternative. "We've had people come in with abdominal pain and chest pain after eating grilled meats, because these small wire bristles get left on the grill and then they get embedded in whatever you're grilling and eating,” Dr. Glatter explains. You swallow them and end up with abdominal pain. "This can even cause bowel perforation—I've seen three cases in the last several years," Dr. Glatter says. Although it's more work, Dr. Glatter recommends cleaning your grill with a soft cloth and a barbecue-safe cleaning solution instead of a bristle brush.

Make sure you're keeping a distance from your gas grill, too. "You've got to be very careful when you turn the gas on—make sure you're well away from it, and don't put your face up close because you can get singed from the heat," he says. Singed eyebrows and nasal hair are common gas grill injuries, so make sure you're operating your grill with extra care. Another suggestion—make sure your grill is operating correctly and if it’s not, replace it.

Sand in your eyes ... is bad

Getting sand everywhere can be more than an annoyance—particularly if you get enough of it in your eyes. "I've seen a lot of people come in with corneal abrasions in their eyes after a day at the beach," Dr. Glatter explains. "If you nap at the beach and you're lying face down, sand can be a problem—especially because our eyes are prone to injury." If you're going for a swim, Dr. Glatter recommends goggles (yes, sand can get in your eyes when you’re swimming in the surf). And if beach napping ranks high on your list of summer activities, he suggests wearing an eye mask to prevent sand from getting in as well.

In the event that you do get sand in your eyes, washing it out with a saline or contact solution is your best move. "Irrigation is the safest, but try not to put your finger in your eye and dig anything out,” he says. Dr. Glatter also says to stay away from tap, bottled or sink water when irrigating your eyes. “It must be sterile saline eye wash," he says. If you start to notice any changes in your vision, you should see a physician immediately, as small pebbles of sand can scratch your eye and lead to corneal abrasion and infection.

“I once had a patient who swallowed a bee.”
Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency medicine physician

"Bee" in the know

When it comes to avoiding bee stings, knowing how these insects operate can put you well ahead of the curve. "Bees are attracted to sweet scents, so it's important to avoid wearing any type of sweet perfume or leaving any type of sweet sugary food outside that's uncovered or unwrapped," Dr. Glatter explains. And if you are going to tempt fate with a sugary outdoor drink, make sure it's one that gives you visibility into what you're drinking. "I had a patient many years ago who drank a swig of soda from a can, and came in saying she had the worst pain in the middle of her chest—turns out she had swallowed a bee," says Dr. Glatter. "Luckily she didn't have her airway compromised, but she did require steroids. Check your drinks, and don't ever leave a can open at a barbecue or picnic outside—bees love these things!"

If there's a bee in your immediate area, vacate rather than swatting at it. "If bees are swarming don't swat them away," says Dr. Glatter. "That's what actually causes them to sting and become more aggressive. If you're in a lake or pool try to jump into water, stay still, or look for a closed space to run into but don't swat—that's just going to anger them." And in the event you do get stung, leave the area immediately. "When a bee stings you it actually releases a pheromone that attracts more bees, so once you've gotten stung you need to leave," he says.

As far as treating the sting goes, be mindful of how you remove the stinger. "I recommend scraping the stinger off using a dull object like a credit card or fingernail—don't use a tweezer to pull the stinger out, because you can cause more venom to be released by squeezing," Dr. Glatter explains. "Apply an ice pack, some hydrocortisone cream and take Benadryl to reduce itching and swelling." If you're allergic to bee stings you should always have an EpiPen on hand, which your doctor can prescribe to you.

Look, Ma—no hands!

"It's like riding a bike" is a saying that means it's difficult to forget how to do. But the truth is it's easy to get rusty after so many months of not doing it. Combine that with heavily trafficked trails with pedestrians who are trying to enjoy the same outdoor space, and Dr. Glatter says you've got all the makings for a potential accident.

"We see a lot of bicycle injuries in the spring and summer months because more people are out and about in the parks," says Dr. Glatter. If you haven't ridden a bike since last summer, take yours out for a spin in an area that's not crowded first, and give yourself a refresher before taking to the more densely packed bike trails.

"Make sure you're looking both ways when operating a bicycle, and wearing a helmet that's approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission with adequate padding—one that also gives you enough lateral and frontal vision," Dr. Glatter adds. You’re much more likely to incur a traumatic brain injury if you wipe out without one. A helmet might not be the fashion statement you’re going for, but the risk is just not worth it.

Baby, you're NOT a firework

While you should never be setting off fireworks, Dr. Glatter says even small ones pose a risk for injury. "Minor fireworks like sparklers and firecrackers are things people think are harmless, but are actually very dangerous," he says. Plenty of parents think these are safe to give to kids—but that's not the case. "All it takes is one shooting spark into your eye, and that could be a severe burn which could result in visual loss," Dr. Glatter explains.

Dr. Glatter's recommendation is to leave the fireworks to the professionals. But in the event that you or someone you're with does suffer an eye injury due to a firework, it's important to seek medical help immediately—and not try to treat it on your own. "If you do sustain an eye injury from fireworks you should not rub or touch your eye," he cautions. "Don't try to remove any fragments using your hands or instruments at home like a tweezer and don't irrigate it. If you try to remove fragments and you don't know what you're doing, you could cause more damage."

Screen your sunscreens carefully

Bad news for once a day sunscreen appliers: Your sunscreen bottle has been lying to you. "You have to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours—they're advertised as lasting all day, but that's not the case," Dr. Glatter explains. "You sweat, you run in the water, and sunscreen starts to disintegrate over time. In about two hours of wearing it, it's less than 50 percent of what it was when you initially applied it. Even if it says sweat-proof on the bottle, you have to reapply it—especially on young kids."

If you're working out in the sun, pay close attention to the clothing you're wearing. Dr. Glatter says he's noticed a trend of sunburns that have resulted from rays getting through the mesh panels of trendy new workout gear—which doesn't keep you protected. "What happens is that people forget to apply sunscreen to those areas, so they come in with very unusual burn marks," he explains.

Drink water. Drink more water. Then, drink even more water.

This one's especially important for young kids that spend the day playing outside without wanting to stop for a break. "Make sure you're avoiding highly concentrated sweet drinks, because that can lead to dehydration," Dr. Glatter explains. "If you drink more sugar it causes you to lose more water, because your body is trying to dilute the sugar intake." If you're hiking, Dr. Glatter recommends staying ahead of your thirst, taking frequent sips along the way rather than waiting until you feel thirsty to ensure you're staying hydrated.

Kicking back to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight and beautiful weather is the stuff that memorable summers are made of. As you're planning your next beach day or cookout, be sure to keep these potential issues top of mind—and take the necessary steps to help prevent a last minute trip to the ER.

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Published July 3rd, 2018

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