Summer time first aid: a revue

part one

Oh glorious summertime -- it has finally arrived. And wow, it's hot out there! Many of us will retreat to the cool of the inside to relax. But many of us have waited all year to be out there and nothing is going to stop us from the sun and fun of the warm weather activities we've longed for. Many of us are well acclimated to the heat and humidity of summer but there are those of us who need to be more careful.

Whether summertime and its activities are your thing, everyone needs to be careful when temperatures and humidity levels begin to soar. There are essentially two conditions -- heat exhaustion and heat stroke -- both related to overexposure to heat and sun that everyone needs to understand and watch out for. Both are caused by too much of a good thing but they are two separate conditions and need to be treated differently, so let's review.

Heat exhaustion is a disorder resulting from overexposure to the heat or sun. Long exposure to extreme heat or too much activity under a hot sun (high humidity will add to heat exhaustion) causes excessive sweating and removes large quantities of salt and fluid from the body. When the amount of salt and fluid falls too far below normal, heat exhaustion may result. Early symptoms are headache, a feeling of weakness or dizziness, usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting. There may also be cramps in the muscles of the arms and legs.

These early symptoms are similar to the early stages of heat stroke but the disorders are not the same, and will need different treatment. In heat exhaustion the person turns pale and perspires profusely; the skin is cool and moist and the pulse and breathing are rapid. Treatment should focus on replacing lost fluids -- water, no soda pop, then lying quietly in a cool place. Some slightly salted water with a squeeze of lemon or cool herbal tea would also be a good choice. If muscle cramping is present, gently massage the painful areas.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and should be treated as such. It is caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body when the heat-humidity index is high. The causes are the same as heat exhaustion -- too much sun and heat. The symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke may overlap somewhat, causing confusion.

Symptoms of heat stroke are headache, nausea, hot, flushed dry skin, and a weak, rapid pulse. Victims will be sweaty, can have high fever, and may lose consciousness. First aid for heat stroke is as follows; lie the person down in a quiet, cool environment, loosen tight clothing and sponge them liberally with cool water. Don't take chances. If you are in doubt, call the doctor or other emergency services. Drinking cool liquids is good but only if they are awake and aware.

Infants, small children, the elderly, and anyone with a chronic condition will be more susceptible to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Remember to take these simple precautions:

Drink plenty of cool liquids. Always take liquids with you!

If you drink alcohol, drink some water too.

Take frequent breaks from the sun or strenuous activity.

Don't stand in crowds for extended periods of time.

Wear a hat.

Wear loose, comfortable cotton clothing.

Have fun but stay safe and cool!

part II

Minor medical emergencies caused by summertime sun and fun can be distressing and ruin a vacation or a day at the park with the kids. Knowing how to handle some of the more common ailments such as sunburn, poison ivy or bug bites can make the difference between having the fun time you had hoped for or wishing you had stayed home!

Nothing is more distressing than a sunburn! In spite of the plethora of potions that effectively block the burning rays of the sun, many of us will suffer from sunburn this summer. Many of the younger sun-worshiping set are under the impression that they won't tan as well using sun blockers. This is not so. They only block the high intensity rays that burn. Nowhere in summertime first aid is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure than here. The more fair your skin, the higher the sun blocker should be -- unless you're going to the southwest or the tropics a lotion containing a #10 blocker should be sufficient. For those of you who do suffer from a burn, the old time remedies are still the best. Cool applications of apple cider vinegar help calm the burning and the malic acid in the vinegar helps the burn heal. A cool bath with a box of baking soda dissolved in the water can really help stop the burn. If you have an aloe vera plant in the house, rubbing the watery insides of the plant directly on the burn has been proven to be effective to help heal.

Poison ivy grows in many parts of the US. It is responsible for more than 350,000 cases of skin poisoning each year. When the sap of the poison ivy plant makes contact with uncovered skin, it produces redness, rash, swelling, blistering and intense, persistent itching. Learning how to recognize a poison ivy vine is your best protection along with wearing protective clothing. But should you come in contact with poison ivy, here's what to do. Wash the areas of your skin that came in contact with the vine with soapy water followed by applications of plain, very hot water for brief intervals as soon as possible. Or, apply a dilute solution of Burrow's solution to the affected areas. You may purchase Burrow's solution at your local drug store. There are also some good homeopathic remedies found in the health food stores for the treatment of poison ivy that may help lessen the symptoms.

Some insect bites can be relatively harmless; others can be serious. The sting of a bee, wasp, or hornet can cause severe allergic reaction in some people; this is not a minor medical emergency. Most people who are allergic to bee stings know it and carry precautionary adrenaline injections with them. If you are with someone who is stung, and for any reason they act or behave in a peculiar manor, complain of shortness of breath, extreme itching, or any symptom that does not fit a minor sting take them immediately to the nearest emergency services facility or call 911.

The bite of a tick can turn into a medical nightmare for you or your animals if that tick is infected with Lyme Disease. Do not assume that you cannot get Lyme Disease in this area or that only certain kinds of ticks are the carriers. Research proves that this is not so. Once again, protective clothing, spraying with DEET before entering the woods and tick checks after being outside are your best protection. If you are bitten by a tick, remove the tick by grasping the head of the tick with fine tweezers pulling straight up. DO NOT squeeze the body of the tick as you may cause the tick to regurgitate infected blood into you! Also do not burn the tick or try to smother it as the same thing can happen.

Other insect repellents are Calendula ointment, Skin So Soft by Avon, or brewer's yeast rubbed on the skin. Avoidance of alcoholic beverages is also helpful as the alcohol causes skin flushing which attracts mosquitoes and horseflies.

For muscle or joint strains and sprains, bruises and other injuries where the skin is unbroken try Arnica! Arnica is the first aid of the homeopathic world. It comes as a pellet or a non greasy gel. I've used Arnica many times with great success for this kind of injury and wouldn't be without it.

Using common sense and caution during the summer months is the best way to keep yourself and your family safe; don't take chances. If you are injured and simple first aid is not the answer, seek help from an appropriate professional.

Till next week, Rebecca.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online July 4, 2000

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