Warm weather and longer days will bring many Americans outdoors for cookouts, pool parties and more. But long weekends also lead to more trips to urgent care or even the emergency room, according to experts. In fact, a 2015 study from researchers at Brown University found that heat-related illness alone can ratchet emergency department visits in the summertime.
The risk for issues like drowning and sports injuries go up in the hotter seasons, according to Dr. Christopher M. McStay, chief of clinical operations and associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. And they’re usually all preventable.
We asked doctors to explain the most common reasons why patients end up in their offices during summer months ― and what can be done to prevent you or a loved one from being among them.
1. Heat-related illness
During summer months, people often show up at the doctor with a heat-related condition, from mild dehydration to severe heatstroke, says Dawne Kort, an emergency medicine doctor and attending physician at CityMD Urgent Care Walk-In Medical Clinic.
Fewer than 1,000 Americans die each year due to heat-related illness, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But plenty more experience the more mild symptoms of too much sun exposure, which include nausea, dizziness, headaches and confusion.
“Be mindful of the temperature, stay hydrated and avoid being outside for prolonged periods of time if the temperature is high ― especially during the hottest time of the day,” Kort told HuffPost, noting that the warmest hours are usually between 2 and 4 p.m.
2. Swimming injuries and drowning
Memorial Day weekend is the first time many people will head out for water-related activities.
“We see a fair amount of swimming-related [injuries],” McStay told HuffPost. “Trauma related to jumping into a body of water, small children who are not being supervised, boating injuries.”
Joseph Perno, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, says these water-related dangers definitely increase when the weather gets warm.
“We see a big spike in drowning,” Perno told HuffPost. “When you have a lot of adults together, you’d think there would be more people watching the kids but what happens is people are distracted: Talking, drinking, partying, having fun and no one is watching the kids.”
Drowning is the second most common cause of death by unintentional injury, behind car accidents, among children ages 1-4 years-old, according to the U.S. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. Children are also more likely to drown in a swimming pool than anywhere else.
It’s so easy for a child to fall into water without someone realizing, Perno says. If you’re having a pool party, rotate having a designated adult to supervise water activities, he suggests.
3. Burns and cuts
There are numerous hospital visits for burns associated with grilling and camp fires, as well as cuts from kitchen knives, according to McStay.
Children may try to touch the fires and adults make the common mistake of squirting lighter fluid onto hot coals. Be safe about it: Apply lighter fluid to coals when they aren’t lit, letting the fluid soak in, McStay suggests.
4. Food poisoning and gastroenteritis
Gastrointestinal issues frequently bring people to the emergency room during warmer months, according to Kort. In fact, food-borne illnesses peak in the summer months, since hot temperatures and humid conditions provide the optimum breeding ground for bacteria to multiply rapidly, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture.
“[It’s] commonly seen after a summer barbecue, where the food has not been properly cooked or may have been left out in the heat. Or when fruits and vegetables have not been washed properly,” Kort said.
Be especially wary of food that’s been sitting out in the sun all day and wash your hands properly before eating, Kort advises.
5. Sports injuries
Sports-related injuries from playing frisbee, football and outdoor activities are also a bigger issue. Sprained wrists, twisted ankles and broken bones are common sights in urgent care clinics and emergency rooms between spring and summer, according to the experts.
Treatment for these injuries typically requires a little home care, Kort said. Rest the body, ice the injury, compress the body part and elevate the injured area. But if something feels seriously wrong or keeps getting worse, head to the doctor as soon as possible.
6. Skin irritations and insect bites
With long days spent outdoors, it’s common to see irritations from wild plants like poison ivy, sumac and oak. Insect and tick bites are also common and, in some cases of infection, may require an antibiotic, Kort said.
This year, in particular, may bring with it more tick bites and tick-borne diseases than previous summers. And Zika virus, though currently out of the news cycle, may be poised to come back in some states.
While most sunburns don’t require a trip to the hospital, some do. In 2013, there were nearly 34,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. due to serious sunburns, according to recent research in Dermatology. Go to the doctor if your sunburn results in blistering or is accompanied by nausea, confusion, headache, extreme pain or chills. You should also head to the doctor if at-home remedies such as applying aloe vera or taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen does not help after a couple of days.
But even if you can take care of your burn at home, it’s an uncomfortable mishap that’s easy to avoid.
Practice good sun protection habits for yourself and especially watch out for children you’re supervising, since they are unlikely to remember to reapply lotion.
“Having a sunburn is uncomfortable and painful,” McStay said. “And the chronic risk of sun exposure and skin cancer is something to think about everyday.”
So walk into the long, warm weekend a bit more alert. Better to be safe than sorry.