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Monday Medical: Summer safety tips

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Summer in the mountains brings sunshine, wildflowers and pristine views, but it can also bring insect bites, heat-related dangers and injuries from biking and hiking.

Fortunately, a little bit of prevention and planning can keep you and your family safe whether you’re heading to the hills, valleys or rivers during these warmer months.

“People should have a little respect for the mountains and the conditions they bring,” said Katie Perkins, nurse practitioner at UCHealth Urgent Care in Steamboat Springs.



Here’s some expert advice for a variety of medical mishaps and maladies you might encounter.

Ticks and insects

Climate change has brought more tick-borne illnesses to the Rocky Mountain region, Perkins said. Symptoms can often be nonspecific and feel like a virus such as the flu, with body aches and a fever. However, a bite can cause other more serious symptoms down the road, which means the sooner you’re treated, the better.



“Staying on the trail is a really good idea,” she said. “Avoid deep grass or piles of old leaves, and wear white socks to better spot ticks.”

If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers by pulling it straight out. Perkins recommends taking a picture of it to show your health care provider. Once removed, thoroughly clean the area with soap and water. If you don’t think you removed the whole tick, begin developing a rash or other symptoms occur, seek medical care. And don’t forget to check your pets for ticks too.

For the pesky mosquitoes, it’s best to wear long sleeves and netting around your face if you’re hiking or camping near still water where they like to congregate. Products with natural or synthetic repellants, such as lemon eucalyptus or DEET, respectively, can help ward off both ticks and mosquitos.

If stung by a bee, rather than squeezing, gently flick the stinger away with your fingernail or a credit card. Always have an EpiPen at the ready if you’re allergic. An antihistamine such as Benadryl can be applied topically or taken orally to help with soreness.

Too much sun

Dehydration plus sun at altitude can spell trouble.

“There are a lot of weekend warriors here, and if you blow off dehydration, it can be too late,” Perkins said. “You really need to pay attention to your symptoms.”

Start hydrating a few hours before your activity, and if you feel faint, stop and lie down in shade with your feet up. Perkins is a fan of sports drinks or hydration tablets, which contain electrolytes, as simply drinking water can cause dangerously low sodium levels.

If you’re still not feeling well, you can apply ice packs to your armpits and groin area. If this doesn’t help, she suggests heading to a medical clinic.

And don’t forget sunscreen or sun-protective clothing, as well as a hat and sunglasses.

“Use at least SPF 30 and reapply every few hours, as that is key,” said Perkins. “If you’re engaging in water activities in a river, choose a sunblock that’s eco-safe and made from minerals instead of chemicals.”

Certain medications can make you more sensitive to the sun, so check with your provider or pharmacist for guidance.

Injuries

When it comes to hiking, climbing, biking and backpacking, know your surroundings, appreciate your physical limits and educate yourself about the weather conditions. Wear the necessary protective gear that is standard safety protocol for each sport.

“We’re able to treat the vast majority of injuries, but when it comes to your brain, that’s much more difficult, so keep it protected with a helmet,” Perkins said.

For backpackers or campers, Perkins recommends taking along a basic first aid kid and consider including a structural aluminum malleable, or SAM, splint to help immobilize bone and soft tissues in an emergency.  

“There’s more danger staying in the house,” and becoming sedentary, believes Perkins, so go and enjoy — just be careful out there.

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at marygaybroderick@comcast.net.


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