Summer is a time to kick back and relax -- unless you're an ER doctor, that is. Hospitals don't take vacations. In fact, some research shows that emergency room visits actually increase during the summer months.
Outdoor fun and time off from school and work can provide great opportunities for staying active and fit, but they can also raise your risk for injury and illness. To keep yourself and your family safe this summer, check out these tips for staying out of the ER, from Lenox Hill Hospital emergency physician Robert Glatter, MD.
Injury-proof your home and yard
Your family will probably spend a lot of time outdoors this summer, so take a look around and remove potential hazards -- like dead tree branches lying right where they can be tripped over, or broken swing sets your kids may want to climb. If you've got a pool, make sure it's securely fenced with a self-closing, self-latching gate, so children can't get in when an adult isn't present.
Do a similar sweep through your house to clear out any accidents waiting to happen -- injuries in and around the home are a common cause of ER visits year-round, Dr. Glatter says. “Clean up loose toys, shoes, cords and chargers,” he says. “Messy rooms cause a surprising number of concussions, wrist fractures and lacerations.”
Keep it cool
Summer's heat and humidity can be uncomfortable for even the healthiest people. For children, seniors and people with obesity or a chronic disease, it can be downright dangerous.
If you're at risk for a heat-related illness, try to stay indoors in a cool place (or at least in the shade) during the hottest parts of the day. And when you do spend time in the sun, drink plenty of fluids and reapply sunscreen regularly.
Steer clear of ticks
The New York area tends to see more cases of Lyme disease than many other parts of the country, Glatter says. The tick-borne disease can cause flu-like symptoms and other problems that are sometimes severe enough to send a sufferer to the doctor -- or even the ER. “We see a fair number of otherwise healthy people with fevers, skin rashes and joint aches at this time of year,” says Glatter.
A few moves can reduce your risk of Lyme. If you're spending time in the woods or tall grasses, for instance in Westchester or on Long Island, use an insect repellant with DEET to keep ticks from biting. When you come indoors, give yourself (and your pets) a tick check.
Stay smart on the road
Sure, it's summer, but the biggest dangers out there are the same ones you face year-round. Like car accidents, for instance. “The importance of safe driving cannot be emphasized enough,” says Glatter, for adults as well as for newly licensed teens. That means absolutely no texting behind the wheel, and also avoiding other distractions -- like eating, fiddling with the radio or GPS, or even having intense conversations while driving.
If you're on a bike, always wear a helmet. And whether you're on two wheels or on foot, always make sure you're visible to motorists and obey traffic laws when traveling on or crossing roads shared with cars.
Keep up your healthy habits
There's nothing wrong with letting loose a little during summer vacation. But that shouldn't mean ditching your healthy diet, skipping your medication, abandoning your exercise plan, or making risky decisions about drugs and alcohol.
“Self-destructive behavior can sabotage your wellness, ultimately leading to an ER visit,” says Glatter. Or put it another way: Staying healthy (and out of the hospital) is often as simple as making smart decisions single day.