Beat the Heat with Health!

PacMed provider discusses most common causes of summer clinic visits

Summertime is almost upon us, and with that exciting seasonal change comes a host of amusing activities enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether living it up on the water or simply relaxing poolside, safety should be a paramount concern for individuals and families of all ages.

Here, Pacific Medical Centers’ Dr. Xiulian Chen examines the summer clinic visit trends of both youth and adults. Read on for tips on how to stay safe while having fun in the sun.

In your experience, what have been the most common reasons for summer clinic visits for youth?
Heat-related illness, food poisoning and gastroenteritis, and sports and swimming injuries are the most common summer clinic visits for children.

Heat rash is a rash caused by blockage of sweat duct and is more common in young children but can happen to anyone. It can look like tiny bubbles, red dots, pimples, or sometimes it can be skin-colored dots. It tends to happen on the neck, chest, head or armpit. Heat exhaustion occurs when a person’s internal temperature rises and causes the following symptoms: nausea, fatigue, weak, heart racing, light-headed, muscle cramps. When the person’s internal temperature continues to rise above 103 F or higher, heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke. The symptoms of heat stroke include: headache, confusion, agitation, rapid breathing, and heart racing.

Summer is the peak season for food borne illness and gastroenteritis, since warm temperatures provide the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow on food products. Cooking outside makes it harder for us to wash cooking utensils and our hands, this allows bacteria to get into our food. Common symptoms for food poisoning include: abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, headache or light-headed from dehydration.

What about adults and military personnel?
Sunburn, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very common in adults — especially military personnel during training. In terms of water and sun safety, many of the principles discussed above apply here as well. Some of the water safety rules include: swimming with a buddy, avoiding alcohol before swimming, checking local weather forecasts prior to swimming in lakes or the ocean, learning how to perform CPR, and paying special attention to individuals who have seizure disorders (since they have a higher risk of drowning).

What precautions can people take to avoid these issues and accidents?
Sunburn can be prevented by avoiding midday sun, avoiding excessive amounts of time in the sun, using protective clothing and hats, and applying sunscreen of at least SPF 15 according to package directions. To prevent heat-related illness, try wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, drinking extra fluids, and staying in the shade whenever possible. In order to avoid food-borne disease, refrigerate any food that can spoil easily. Store prepared food in cold spaces if possible and avoid letting food stand in the heat for prolonged time. To help prevent water or swimming accidents, it is important to supervise children closely. If you are hosting a pool party, make sure there is a designated person to watch the kids in the pool.

What treatments should be utilized if someone is impacted by any of the issues discussed above?
The treatment for heat rash is to cool the skin down and stay dry. When heat exhaustion happens, move to a cooler place, wet the clothing, or take a cold shower and try to sip on water. The important part of treating food poisoning is to increase oral hydration with fluids with electrolytes. In severe cases, the person may need to go to the hospital for intravenous fluids. The treatment for sports-related injuries generally starts with RICE (rest, icing, compression and elevation).

What else would you like readers to know about summer safety and preparation?
Other things that need more attention in the summer include insect bites and disease spread by insects. Mosquitoes not only can cause an allergic reaction, but also spread bacteria and cause infection. Tick borne disease is not common in Washington state, but if you are traveling to an endemic area — especially military personnel who travel often — always remember to search for ticks when you are in the woods and grassy places. It helps to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts that are tucked in.