Steer clear of danger by making safety part of your summer plans

relder@newsobserver.comJune 21, 2013 

  • U.S. injuries by the numbers, 2011

    •  ATVs, mopeds, minibikes: 221,465

    •  Baseball, softball: 261,632

    •  Bicycles: 549,182

    •  Exercise equipment: 410,024

    •  Playground equipment: 244,641

    •  Skateboards: 108,510

    •  Trampolines: 83,292

    Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2011

Summertime is finally here, and those vacations from school and work – along with extra hours of daylight – mean more folks are busy outside.

Inside Triangle emergency rooms, doctors and nurses are busy, too. Warmer months bring a plethora of cuts, broken bones, bites and blisters.

“It’s really pretty remarkable: As soon as kids go outside and play, we start seeing bones getting broken and head injuries,” Dr. Courtney Mann, an emergency physician at WakeMed, said.

Simply learning about the risks and taking some precautions can go a long way toward ensuring an injury-free summer, Mann said. She and other local doctors offered the following tips for enjoying the summer safely.

Head injuries

Mann said head injuries are one of the most serious summer threats. Knocks on the head can result in permanent disabilities or even death. Wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard or “anything that moves faster than you can walk” is the best way to avoid brain injury, she said.

That goes for adults as well as children.

“So many parents are not willing to set a good example, but they have just as much to lose,” Mann said. “No one’s brain regenerates as well you’d want it to.”

Drivers should use vigilance when backing out of driveways and traveling on residential streets. Don’t trust children to be mindful of their own safety. Go slowly and be prepared to stop if a pedestrian or skateboarder suddenly darts into the vehicle’s path.

Supervise children on play equipment and check to see that ground-cover material is resilient to cushion falls. Encourage kids to take turns on trampolines rather than jumping together to avoid head-to-head collisions.

Pay close attention to water depth before diving.

And always buckle up, even on long trips when older youngsters may be tempted to unbuckle and lie down in the back seat. Mann said ER doctors consider vehicle restraints “the difference between being in a trauma bay with a long term injury and getting to eat a popsicle and go home.”

Bee stings, fire ants

Fire ants live in nests or mounds, often near a source of water. To avoid the painful stings, check thoroughly for nests in the yard or any outdoor space before children or adults play or walk in the area.

Bees are particular hazards in the garden, where they like to hunt for nectar. If a bee or wasp is spotted nearby, stand still or walk calmly away. Bear in mind that bright clothing and sweet smells, as well as food, can attract bees. Keep car windows rolled up and wear shoes outdoors.

The biggest danger of insect bites or stings is the potential for anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that can cause throat swelling, difficulty breathing and swallowing and sometimes vomiting. Such reactions are potentially fatal and should be considered medical emergencies. A typical ER treatment is an injection of epinephrine.

In the absence of an allergic reaction, a home treatment with cold compresses and an antihistamine such as Benadryl is recommended for fire ants and bee stings.


About 100 snakebites are reported at WakeMed each year, 60 percent of which turn out to be venomous, said Dr. Benjamin German, a physician who is a snakebite specialist.

Copperheads are responsible for almost all the bites, because they are the only poisonous snakes typically found in the vicinity.

“They live in the city and suburbs, throughout Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill,” German said.

Copperheads are tan and brown and often blend into leaves and other landscapes.

To guard against snakebites, avoid going barefoot or wearing sandals outdoors, especially in low light conditions. Use a stick to check masses of shrubbery or underbrush before venturing in to clean up lawns or do gardening.

Copperhead bites are rarely life-threatening but may require treatment with antivenin serum to prevent swelling and potential tissue loss. A visit to the ER is recommended for any snakebite that could be poisonous.

Two other venomous snakes are found just outside the Triangle: the cottonmouth, also known as water moccasin, which lives to the east and south of Wake County, and coral snakes, found in the southeast corner of the state, near Wilmington.


Even strong swimmers can get in trouble in the water if they are tired, sick or under the influence of alcohol – something to keep in mind any time water activities are on the agenda.

“Take the pool very seriously; in our line of business it is seen as a hazard,” said Mann, the ER physician.

Children should be taught to swim as soon as possible, and adults should supervise children carefully, even those who know how to swim. No one should swim alone.

In groups, Mann suggests that adults take turns being the primary observer.

Discourage horseplay, especially among older children and teens who don’t always know when a friend is in trouble.

Heat-related illness

The N.C. Department of Public Health reports that more than 200 people have been treated at emergency rooms for heat illnesses so far this year – and summer is just getting started. Several of the patients fell ill during athletic training camps or marathons.

The combination of high temperatures and humidity prevents the body from cooling itself and may lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

“Stroke happens when your body is not able to cool itself down; that’s when you risk injury to your organs,” said Dr. Michele Roberts Casey, a physician who works with the military during training exercises.

She advises athletes to start drinking extra water several days in advance of exertion in the heat, whether biking, running a marathon or playing beach volleyball. Adding a teaspoon of salt to a quart of water helps the body retain more of the fluid.

Cramping muscles, headache and heavy sweating are signs that it is time to seek some shade and a fan.

Mental changes such as disorientation and absence of sweating indicate a more severe heat illness or stroke, requiring a visit to the ER.

Elder: 919-829-4528

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service