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Enjoy Independence Day Safely!

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 hazards.”

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 getting burned.

“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 or the Washington Township Medical Foundation website at