Common summer injuries and ailments: When to see a doctor

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Summer is a time when any number of injuries or ailments can happen, from sprains and contusions from playing sports, to skin rashes, bug bites and sunburns.

We spoke with Karen Weaver, M.D., Beaumont family medicine physician, for help figuring out when these ailments rise to the level of seeing a doctor.

Heat-related illness

Ailments like heat stroke or heat exhaustion is usually the result of being outside too long in hot weather without drinking enough water to remain hydrated. You’ll want to see a doctor if you feel confused, dizzy, cold and clammy, or you’re experiencing nausea or are throwing up. Medical staff will generally help you to cool down and get you on an IV to help you rehydrate.

Prevent it from happening by getting out of the heat and replacing your fluids with water - or better yet, a sports drink like Gatorade or any other drink containing electrolytes, or a salt-replacement solution. For babies and toddlers, use Pedialyte.

Burns

First of all, decrease your chances of getting burned in the first place by not squirting lighter fluid on a live campfire or BBQ grill.

If you do get burned, run the affected area under cold water for 10 minutes. That should help stop the burn. Over-the-counter burn gels are also available. “If it’s continuing to hurt, and the burn gel or ibuprofen doesn’t help, then I would consider seeking medical advice,” Dr. Weaver says.

And if you have blisters that don’t hurt, definitely seek medical help immediately. “If it blisters but doesn’t hurt, that usually means that part of the skin is gone, and that’s bad,” Dr. Weaver says. “That’s part of a more serious burn.”

Sunburns

It’s always advisable to take preventive measures first: Apply sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 or higher, and re-apply every two hours, or after getting out of water.

If you get sunburned, aloe vera applied directly to the skin or anti-inflammatories can help with the pain. If the sunburn is bad enough that is caused blisters to form, you should see a doctor, who can provide creams that help cut the risk of infection. In severe cases, they can administer steroids to help deal with the pain.

Food poisoning

Summer’s warm weather means foods perish faster, especially on picnics. Bacteria like e-coli or salmonella can thrive in things like mayonnaise, eggs, hamburgers or hot dogs stay unrefrigerated for too long, especially when uncooked.

If you’re experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea or light-headedness, you’re probably dehydrated and will need to see a doctor who can run an IV. If you’re vomiting, Dr. Weaver advises trying small sips of Gatorade or similar sports drink. “If you can’t keep even an ounce or two of fluid down, you probably need an IV,” she says.

Sports injuries

Wondering what to do if you’ve sprained an ankle or strained a muscle playing sports? “One rule is if you can walk on it immediately for four or five steps, it’s probably not broken,” Dr. Weaver says. If you think you’ve suffered sprain or contusion (bruise), rest the injured area, elevate it, apply ice and compression, if you can. Wrap an Ace bandage around your ankle, or a sock with plenty of elastic. Anti-inflammatories, like Motrin or Advil, can also help.

“If it continues to hurt where it feels weak, any numbness or tingling, or at any point you can’t use it where you could previously, I would seek medical attention,” Dr. Weaver says.

Rashes

The two most common types of summertime skin rashes are heat rash and contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy or poison oak.

Rashes like these are prevented by wearing protective clothing, gloves and long sleeves that cover the skin. But if you do contract a rash, anti-itch creams and pills such as Clarion or Benadryl are available over the counter. If the redness of the skin and swelling are extensive, doctors will use oral steroids to alleviate symptoms.

Bug bites

In Michigan, most of the concern with bug bites involves mosquitoes and ticks. The former can transmit West Nile Virus and dengue fever, while certain kinds of ticks can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

With mosquito bites, anti-itch creams and pills should usually do the trick. But it swelling is severe, or near an eye - or you’ve suffered a spider bite - see a doctor.

With tick bites, the tick actually seeks to burrow beneath the skin, so you should check for any lump that starts to increase in swelling. If you opt to remove the tick yourself, be careful to get the entire tick, not breaking part of it off to remain embedded under the skin, and bring the tick in to a doctor or health department to get tested for disease. And if you don’t know how to remove it, or think you can’t without breaking part of it off, see a doctor who can help.

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