Don’t Let Accidents and Hazards Spoil Your July 4 Fun!
This year, the July 4 holiday falls on a Monday, so many families will
be celebrating in the great outdoors over a long holiday weekend. Whether
you’re planning a “stay-cation” at home, a day’s
excursion to the beach, a weekend camping trip to the Sierras, or a longer
vacation to visit grandma and grandpa at the family home back East, your
holiday experience will be more pleasant if you stay healthy and safe.
Tam Nguyen, MD, a family medicine physician at the Nakamura Clinic in Union
City, notes that physicians frequently end up treating children and adults
for a variety of conditions related to summer activities.
“We see everything from severe sunburns and heatstroke to food poisoning
from improperly cooked barbecue meals or foods that have been left out
in the sun too long,” he says. “And, of course, we treat numerous
injuries and burns incurred during outdoor activities. Most of these conditions
can be avoided by planning ahead and being aware of health and safety
Avoid Sunshine on Your Shoulders – and Elsewhere
One of Dr. Nguyen’s areas of expertise is skin care, and he stresses
that protecting yourself from the harmful effects of sun exposure is key
to keeping your skin healthy.
“Sunburns can be very painful, and they can lead to a variety of
skin problems, including an increased risk for skin cancer later on,”
he explains. “Ideally, people should avoid being in the sun from
10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest. That’s
not very practical, though, when you’re having a 4th of July picnic
in the park or at the beach. People can protect themselves from the sun’s
harmful rays by wearing protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats, and
by using sunscreen. The sunscreen should have a sun protection factor
(SPF) of at least 30, and it should be ‘full-spectrum,’ meaning
it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.”
Dr. Nguyen recommends re-applying sunscreen at least every four hours when
you are in the sun. Sunscreen is important even on cloudy days when people
may not be as aware of their exposure and don’t feel themselves
“There are some sunscreens that are ‘water-resistant,’
but there is really no such thing as ‘waterproof’ sunscreen,”
he adds. “That’s why it is important to reapply more sunscreen
after being in the water. Be sure to apply a sufficient amount of sunscreen
and spread it evenly over your skin.”
People also should wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB
rays that can damage the eyes, Dr. Nguyen cautions. In addition to limiting
your sun exposure, it is important to drink plenty of water on hot days
and get out of the sun if you begin to feel dizzy or nauseated.
“Spending long hours in the sun and heat may cause heat exhaustion
or even more dangerous heat stroke,” he says. “Taking precautions
to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke is key.”
“You really need to stay hydrated,” Dr. Nguyen emphasizes.
“Keep in mind that sodas or other beverages with caffeine can work
as a diuretic that dehydrates you. Alcoholic beverages also may actually
increase your dehydration, and they have a more intoxicating effect if
you are not hydrated. Drinking beverages such as Gatorade and Pedialyte
that contain electrolytes can improve your hydration, but plain old water
works well, too.”
Practice Safe Summer Outdoor Eating
Grilling food outdoors and taking picnics to the park or the beach on
the 4th of July are American traditions.
“In hot weather, eating outdoors can be more fun, and food somehow
tastes better when it’s cooked on the grill,” Dr. Nguyen observes.
“Unfortunately, outdoor eating and warm temperatures can encourage
foodborne bacteria to grow, possibly resulting in food poisoning.”
A number of precautions can help you minimize the risks of food poisoning:
- Keep your hands clean. Washing with soap and hot water is ideal, but hand
sanitizers and hand wipes are practical alternatives when outdoors.
- Clean produce well before eating it raw or prepping it for cooking.
- Keep cold food cold (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit) by packing it on ice
in a cooler. Drain off water as the ice melts and replenish the ice.
- Cook foods thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure the food (especially
meat, chicken and fish) is heated to the proper temperature.
- Don’t cross-contaminate foods. Keep meat wrapped well and separate
from veggies and fruit, especially if the meat is raw.
- Use separate coolers for perishable food and beverages so that the perishables
are not exposed to ongoing opening of the beverage cooler.
Play Things Safe Outdoors with Water and Fire
Drowning is a leading cause of accidental death among children in the U.S.
“It doesn’t matter if you are at a pool, lake, river or ocean
– you should never allow children to swim alone,” Dr. Nguyen
warns. “Even in ‘kiddie pools’ with one or two feet
of water, children need constant supervision. You can’t rely on
inflatable flotation devices to protect a child from drowning.”
In the Bay Area, the ocean beaches are very popular on holiday weekends.
Those beaches also can be very hazardous.
“People need to be careful with the waves at the beach,” Dr.
Nguyen says. “Even a strong adult can be pulled out to sea by a
rip tide. I also try to remind people not to drink the ocean salt water,
which can make you feel ill, but can also cause you to become dehydrated.”
Dr. Nguyen also recommends staying with a companion when near the water,
and exercising caution when participating in water sports.
“Whenever you are boating, fishing, rafting or water skiing, always
insist that children and adults wear life preservers,” he notes.
“While adults might be able to swim well, they still might get knocked
in the head and a life preserver could save them. Besides, adults need
to set the example of wearing life preservers so that kids will be willing
to wear them, too.”
Summer campfires, barbecues and fireworks all can be sources of burn injuries,
as well as causes of disastrous wild fires in our drought-stricken state.
To make your July 4th holiday fire-safe, Dr. Nguyen recommends keeping
children away from all fire sources, including campfires, camp stoves,
barbecue grills, and even matches and lighters.
“Make sure your campfires are put out completely,” he says.
“Drown them with plenty of water, and then cover the ashes with
approximately two inches of dirt so any remaining embers will not reignite.”
He also notes that smoke inhalation can be a hazard, irritating the eyes,
mouth and lungs.
“Inhaling smoke can actually cause internal burns,” he explains.
“If you have inhaled smoke and you are experiencing difficulty breathing
or are choking, go to an emergency room right away.”
As for fireworks, Dr. Nguyen reiterates that California’s continued
drought is a reason to exercise utmost caution.
“Personal use of fireworks is illegal in most communities in California,”
he says. “Always check with local authorities about the rules and
regulations for fireworks. Some communities will offer professional fireworks
displays, and you really should leave fireworks to the experts. Serious
burn injuries are far too common with fireworks. Plus, we don’t
need any more disastrous wildfires here.”
If you need help finding a physician, visit www.whhs.com or the Washington
Township Medical Foundation website at www.mywtmf.com.