Monday Medical: Summer safety tips

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Hoping for a fun-filled summer? Then your plans probably don’t include a trip to the emergency department.

Learn how to prevent common summer injuries and illnesses with the following tips from Dr. Jim Cotter, an emergency medicine physician at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

From broken bones to bruises

“Traumatic injuries are by far what we see most during summer,” Cotter said. “These include broken bones, lacerations, contusions and head injuries.”

Know your limits when enjoying outdoor adventures, and always use protective devices, such as helmets and knee and elbow pads.

“You would be surprised by how many head injuries we see from people not wearing a helmet when they are biking, skating or even riding (all-terrain vehicles),” Cotter said. “If you sustain a head injury and have any symptoms, such as headache, nausea, vomiting or confusion, go immediately to the emergency department.”

People who use blood thinners are especially susceptible to severe consequences from head trauma and should be evaluated immediately.

A serious cut or possible broken bone are also reason to head to the emergency department.

“Lacerations need to be properly cleaned and repaired to prevent infection and promote healing,” Cotter said. “A broken bone may need to be splinted, casted or may even require a surgery.”

Stay safe in the sun

From painful sunburns to life-threatening heatstroke, hot summer days can present challenges.

Small, red blisters that are sometimes itchy and painful may be a sign of heat rash. Stay out of the sun and keep the area dry with baby powder.

Prevent sunburn by liberally applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor — SPF — of 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours. Ease the pain of sunburn with aloe vera gel and wet cloths, and don’t pop blisters.

If you develop heat cramps, drink lots of fluids, get out of the heat and rest. If symptoms don’t improve, head to the emergency department.

Always be aware of signs of heat exhaustion, which include increased sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and headaches. Cool down quickly: get out of the heat, take off excess clothes, apply cool, wet cloths or take a cold shower and drink water. If symptoms don’t improve rapidly, head to the emergency department.

And if you have the symptoms of heat exhaustion along with confusion, you’re likely suffering from heatstroke, which is a medical emergency. Call 911 for help.

Never forget that the heat is a powerful force, especially at altitude.

“People sometimes underestimate the sun and heat-related illnesses at higher altitudes,” Cotter said. “Be sure to acclimate to the heat. Stay hydrated and bring more fluids on your adventures than you think you’ll need, including drinks that contain electrolytes. And dress for the heat: wear loose, breathable, lightweight clothes.”

Keep away the bugs

With warmer weather come the bugs. Stave off bites with insect repellant. And remember that some insects can be more than a nuisance: mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile virus, while ticks can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Avoid annoying rashes

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can all cause a painful, itchy rash in some people.

“The best prevention is to familiarize yourself with the plants and avoid exposure,” Cotter said.

If you are exposed, wash the area well with soap and water, remove and wash clothing, and treat itching with an antihistamine and over-the-counter topical steroids. In some cases, you may need oral or intramuscular steroids, which can be prescribed by your medical provider.

A final reminder: don’t go alone.

“We recommend always hiking and biking with a friend, so that if you do get injured, you have a helping hand,” Cotter said. “Carry a fully-charged cellphone in case you need to call for help. It’s also helpful to have some simple First Aid supplies, if you need to cover a wound in the field while you make your way to the emergency department.”

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

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