Monday Medical: Spring break safety tips |

Monday Medical: Spring break safety tips

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Whether you’re headed to Mexico or Moab, Utah for Steamboat Springs’ spring break, you’re likely prepared for rest and rejuvenation. But you may also want to prepare for the possibility of injury or illness.

“People going on vacation tend to be at risk for more injuries because they’re doing activities they don’t normally do,” said Dr. Jeanne Fitzsimmons, an emergency physician with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “After being in the mountains all winter, we’re riding bikes for the first time or jogging on a sandy beach.”

Plus, the final push to get ready for a vacation can leave people susceptible to illness.

“You may not be getting the sleep you need or taking care of yourself,” Fitzsimmons said. “So you’re rundown and your immune system becomes compromised.”

To avoid unwanted injuries or illnesses during spring break, or to know what to do if you experience one, check out Fitzsimmons’ tips below.


No one wants to be stuck inside nursing a bad sunburn, so be sure to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before heading outside. Reapply every two hours or after swimming. Wear a broad-rimmed hat and sun protective clothing and limit exposure to sun when possible.

If you do get burned, treat with cool compresses and soaks, calamine lotion and aloe vera, which relieves pain and promotes healing. Gently clean any ruptured blisters with mild soap and water, apply a thin layer of antibacterial ointment and take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, as needed.

Sprains or breaks

For pulled muscles or sore joints, follow the RICE protocol: rest, apply ice and compression, and elevate the injury. Potential breaks should be evaluated by a medical provider. Avoid jumping back into activities too soon.

“A good rule of thumb is to let pain be your guide for activity,” Fitzsimmons said. “If it hurts to do something, don’t do it, as you may cause further injury. If you want something to heal, you have to allow for your body’s normal repair process, which includes rest.”

Cuts and wounds

Even the most experienced mountain biker is likely to fall now and then. Clean wounds as soon as possible. Use mild soap and water, or even pressure irrigate with tap water from the faucet. If bleeding continues, elevate and apply pressure for 10 to 15 minutes.

Insect bites and sting

If the mosquitoes are biting where you’re headed, be sure to bring bug spray. Treat mosquito bites with ice and topical creams to numb and decrease itching in the area. You may use an oral antihistamine if needed. Remember that mosquito bites transfer a tiny amount of blood from other people or animals, which can result in infections such as Zika, West Nile, Malaria and Yellow Fever.

For bee or wasp stings, remove the stinger as quickly as possible, cleanse and apply ice, avoid scratching and use an oral antihistamine if needed. If you experience any signs of anaphylactic shock, such as trouble breathing, swelling around the face, cramps or nausea, seek medical help immediately.

Traveler’s diarrhea

When visiting countries with poor sanitation, avoid tap water, steer clear of food from street stands or carts, only eat fruit you peel yourself and choose well-done meats, seafood and eggs.

If diarrhea strikes, stay hydrated. “The most important thing is being sure to get enough fluids,” Fitzsimmons said. “Whatever you’re losing in fluids needs to be replaced, in addition to what your body needs for maintenance.”

Seek medical attention if you notice blood in your stool or aren’t able to rehydrate.

For illnesses and injuries in general, don’t be afraid to see a doctor while traveling.

“Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you need an X-ray or medical evaluation,” Fitzsimmons said. “But if you’re wondering whether you should see a doctor, that’s usually a sign you should be checked out.”

Before taking any of the recommended medications, be sure you don’t have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking other medications that might result in side effects.

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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