Whether you’re off to the beach or taking a road trip to grandma’s, make sure you are taking time to be safe this summer.
We asked Miguel Gaeta, MD, trauma physician, to share his best tips for avoiding accidents and injuries during these warm-weather months.
Q: What problems can hot weather cause?
Dr. Gaeta: Hot weather can cause cramping, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The most serious of these conditions is heat stroke, which can be deadly. The telltale signs include extremely hot skin and altered mental state, ranging from slight confusion to conditions as serious as a coma. If you notice these signs in someone, call for emergency medical help immediately. Do all you can lower the person’s body temperature while you wait for help to arrive.
Preventing heat-related illness means using common sense. On hot days, be sure to wear lightweight clothing and sunscreen, stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible, and schedule outdoor activities during the coolest times of the day or evening. Hydration is also very important. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Q: What is the number one summer safety risk for children?
Dr. Gaeta: For children up to age 18, the biggest concern by far is drowning—the younger the child, the higher the risk. Being underwater for three minutes can cause irreversible brain damage, and after five minutes underwater, death can occur.
The main factors that affect drowning risk are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, poor adult supervision, failure to wear life jackets, and seizure disorders. The best advice I can give parents is to be vigilant—don’t depend on a lifeguard or other children to supervise your child in the water. And if you have older children, make sure they are aware of drowning risks and that they take precautions, such as having a buddy system or wearing a life jacket while riding in a boat.
Q: What about older teens and adults?
Dr. Gaeta: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers, and the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest for drivers ages 15 to 20, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The main cause is driver inexperience, but other factors play a role. For instance, if a teen is using a cellphone while driving, the risk of getting in a car crash quadruples. If a teen driver has teenage passengers, the risk can be up to 13 times greater.
Of course, motor vehicle crashes are a problem for adults as well. Everyone who is behind the wheel should buckle up and make passengers do the same. Be a considerate driver—use your turn signals and allow for plenty of space between your car and others. More accidents happen between dusk and dawn than during the day, so be extra cautious at nighttime. If you feel drowsy behind the wheel, take a break.
Q: What should older adults be thinking about in terms of summer safety?
Dr. Gaeta: Hot weather can increase an older person’s risk of dehydration, which can lead to balance problems and increase the risk of falling. Falling is a huge cause of death and disability for older adults. In 2014, more than 27,000 older adults died as the result of a fall—that’s 74 a day.
I encourage people over 65 to be very proactive about reducing their fall risk year-round. It’s important to:
Know your nearest emergency center
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