Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Summertime and the living is... ouch!

We love our warm weather, but it brings with it a wealth of new ways to hurt ourselves

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Avoid common warm-weather injuries that the summer season puts you at higher risk for.

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Avoid common warm-weather injuries that the summer season puts you at higher risk for.

Canadians may revel in the splendours of summer, but those lazy days of summer also come with a slew of health hazards, from bug bites and burns to sore feet and serious injuries.

Here are five of those warm-weather pitfalls and how to avoid them:


Lawn Mower Mishaps

It seems like a simple idea -- turn on the mower and cut the grass. But each year, thousands of North Americans are injured performing this gardening task, sometimes seriously.

From 1990 to 2006, 1,161 Canadians went to hospital emergency departments with lawn mower-related injuries, with roughly half of them aged 14 and under, statistics gathered by the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) show.

Rocks and sticks caught by the machine's blades can become air-borne projectiles that can lacerate skin on legs or other body parts or slam into an the eye of the person mowing or a nearby bystander.

Trauma doctors see not only cuts but amputated fingers, toes and worse.

"A few years ago, we had a near-complete hand amputation," says Dr. Anil Chopra, head and medical director of emergency medicine at University Health Network in Toronto.

"Somebody was trying to fix a lawn mower and it accidentally turned on and the patient got his hand and wrist caught in the blades."

To avoid injury: clear sticks, rocks or other debris from the lawn before mowing; wear sturdy closed-toe shoes or boots, long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and sunglasses to protect the eyes from flying objects and UV rays from the sun; make sure the machine is turned off before touching blades or other moving parts; and save the beer or wine until after the lawns are done.

"It goes without saying that a high proportion of the injuries we see are alcohol-related," Chopra says.


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Barbecue Boo-Boos

Backyard grillers need to remember it's the food they want to sizzle, not themselves.

Most serious burns occur either because the barbecuer lit the outdoor grill incorrectly or used the wrong fuel, doctors say.

Charcoal-burning barbecues can be slow to come up to grilling heat, so some people try to hasten the process by dumping gasoline or lighter fluid on an already hot coal, which can send up an intense geyser of flame that can scorch the face and upper body.

With propane-fuelled barbecues, problems can arise at the beginning of the season if consumers fail to do simple maintenance -- making sure the fuel regulator isn't leaking and hoses aren't blocked -- to prevent fires or an explosion when turning on the grill.

Repeatedly trying to spark up a start-stubborn barbecue with the fuel valve wide open can also cause an explosion when invisible clouds of propane suddenly ignite.

Whether cooking up burgers, kebabs or hotdogs, the use of long-handled tongs to turn the food also will help prevent skin or clothing getting seared.

Should a burn occur, treatment depends on severity, says the Mayo Clinic's website.

For minor burns, hold the area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 or 15 minutes or until pain subsides or immerse in cool water or use cold compresses (not ice). Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage and take an over-the-counter pain reliever. For major burns, seek immediate emergency medical help.


Scorching Sunburn

Nasty sunburns are a common injury in the summer, says Chopra. "They're typically first-degree burns where you can have redness and itchiness and pain, all the way to second-degree burns where there actually is loss of the superficial layer of the skin.

"Obviously avoidance is best, using ample amounts of skin protection (sunscreen), wearing appropriate clothing, including hats and long sleeves as necessary, minimizing your exposure to the sun," he says, especially when the sun's rays are most intense, roughly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

With a first-degree sunburn, soothing creams such as those containing aloe vera can help, as can cold compresses. And the person should keep himself well-hydrated.

"If it's a big area and very itchy, you can use over-the-counter antihistamines, in small to moderate doses," Chopra says.

But with more severe burns that cause persistent redness, pain, blistering and peeling, "you should seek medical attention," he advises, noting that extremely bad sunburns may need treatment with corticosteroid creams.


James Gathany / Centers for Disease Control
A tick bite can form a rash in the pattern of a bull�s-eye.

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James Gathany / Centers for Disease Control A tick bite can form a rash in the pattern of a bull�s-eye. (CP)

Bug Bites

While warm weather gets people outside, it also brings out the creepy-crawlies like spiders and ticks, as well as summer's curse on wings -- blood-sucking mosquitoes -- and potentially stinging bees and wasps.

As with sunburn, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to insect bites, says Chopra.

There are a number of steps to avoid mosquito chow-downs, including staying indoors from dusk until dawn when the critters are most active. Keeping ankles covered with socks and wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts -- especially in light-coloured fabrics -- can help keep bugs at bay.

Covering exposed skin with topical products containing DEET can also discourage the little biters. And getting rid of standing water around the home also cuts down on mosquitoes by depriving them of places to breed.

Stopping mosquitoes from making a meal of you also avoids possible infection with West Nile, a potentially disabling or even deadly virus transmitted by the Culex tarsalis mosquito.

Bites can be treated with cold compresses, by spotting on anti-itch creams or taking an antihistamine, says Chopra.

For those who run afoul of bees and wasps -- and aren't allergic to their venom -- painful, swollen stings can be treated at home with an ice pack and over-the-counter antihistamine, doctors say.

"But if you start to get severe hives and wheezing troubles, it's time to go to an emergency room, especially if your lips start to swell," warns Dr. David Claypool, an emergency physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Those can be symptoms of a severe allergy that can quickly lead to fatal anaphylactic shock.


Flip-flops look cute, but they don�t provide proper foot support.

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Flip-flops look cute, but they don�t provide proper foot support.

Foot Foibles

Ah, summer: Getting out of heavy boots and shoes and into open-toed and -heeled footwear that makes tootsies feel cool and light.

But wearing flip-flops or sandals can create unexpected problems. Thin soles can put the wearer at risk for cuts or punctures from walking over sharp objects like nails or broken glass.

More often, such warm-weather apparel can lead to painful, achy feet, legs and back.

"If you are wearing an unsupportive sandal, a flat flip-flop for example, then the arches of the feet are inappropriately supported and the feet are not well-protected," says Lisa Irish, a pedorthist in Burlington, Ont.

"So you can develop strains within the foot, muscles don't function very well. You can get ligament strains, tired, aching feet."

Problems in the feet caused by unsupportive footwear like flip-flops can transfer up the leg, leading to biomechanical dysfunction -- and pain -- in the knees, hips and lower back.

"If you're walking from the pool to the house or you're at the dock... and walking to the cottage door, flip-flops aren't necessarily evil," says Irish. "However, if you're going to be walking for any length of time, then you really need something more supportive."

Women, in particular, "notoriously wear sandals that are too small for them or the shape is inappropriate for their foot shape," she says.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2013 D1


Updated on Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 6:27 AM CDT: Replaces photo, formats text, rearranges images

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