The most common reasons for clinic visits during the summer

Take precautions as hot weather returns

Warm weather and longer days will bring many Pacific Northwest residents outside this summer for pool parties, barbeques and more. However, increased time outdoors can lead to more urgent care or emergency room visits, as preventable issues including sports and swimming-related injuries significantly increase in the summer months.

Dr. Xiulian Chen with Pacific Medical Centers has outlined the most common reasons why patients end up unexpectedly in the doctor’s office or ER during summer months, as well as what can be done to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy this summer.

1. Heat-related illnesses

Heat rash: Heat rash is a rash caused by the blockage of sweat ducts. Other names for heat rash are “sweat rash” or “prickly heat.” While heat rash is more common in young children, it can happen to anyone. Often, heat rash looks like tiny bubbles or red dots/pimples on the skin. However, heat rash can sometimes appear as skin colored dots. The most common areas to develop heat rash are on the neck, chest, head or armpits. The best course of treatment is to cool down the skin and stay dry.

To avoid developing heat rash, I recommend wearing loose fitting cotton clothing, so the skin can breathe. Taking a cool bath or wiping sweat with a cool towel will also help. Generally, heat rash resolves in a few days. However, if the rash is associated with significant irritation or itching, or the skin begins to swell or emit pus, you should seek medical attention.

Sunburn: It is important to remember that being outside during the beautiful summer months can come with the danger of sunburn, even if it appears cloudy outside, and those with fair skin are more sensitive to sun damage.

Mild sunburn is generally skin redness accompanied by irritation. However, more severe cases of sunburn can cause painful blisters. Sunburn also increases the long-term risk for skin cancers. Most sunburn symptoms typically resolve in a few days. However, if the sunburn develops severe blistering and pain, go see your doctor.

Sunburn can be prevented by adhering to the following:

  • Avoid afternoon sun
  • Avoid excessive amount of time spent in the sun
  • Wear protective clothes and a hat
  • Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and reapply as instructed on the product label

Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs when a person’s internal temperature rises and causes the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Racing heart
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lightheadedness

When heat exhaustion does occur, it is important to move to a cooler place, dampen your clothes, or take a cool shower and try to sip water.

Heat stroke: If a person’s internal temperature rises above 103 Fahrenheit or higher, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. The symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Rapid breathing
  • Racing heart

In the situation of heat stroke, the person should be immediately transported to a hospital.

To prevent heat-related illnesses, I recommend wearing loose fitting, light colored, and breathable clothing and be sure to drink extra fluids if you know you are going to be active outdoors. Also, if possible, try to remain in the shade while outdoors this summer.

2. Food poisoning and gastroenteritis

Summer is the peak season for food borne illness and gastroenteritis, as warm temperatures can cause bacteria to grow on food products. It is also more common to cook outside in the summer, where refrigeration is less available. Cooking outside also makes it harder for us to ensure cooking utensils and surfaces remain clean, as our hands allow bacteria to spread on both utensils and food.

Common symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, with mild symptoms usually going away within a few days.

The important part of the treatment for food poisoning and gastroenteritis is to increase oral hydration with fluids that contain electrolytes. In severe cases, if you are unable to consume fluids by mouth, you will need to go to the hospital for intravenous fluids.

To prevent foodborne illness, it is important to refrigerate any food that can spoil easily. I recommend storing prepared food in your refrigerator or cooler if possible and avoid keeping food in the heat for long periods of time. Other helpful tips include thorough washing of hands and cooking utensils and to separate your raw meat and fish from other foods.

3. Swimming-related injuries and drowning

Who doesn’t enjoy jumping into cool water and having some fun in the summer? Unfortunately, drowning does happen very often in the summer and is the second most common cause of death in children by unintentional injury during the summer months. Given this, it is extremely important to supervise children closely. If you are going to have a pool party this summer, make sure you have designated an adult to watch the kids in the pool. Parents often get distracted while socializing with other adults and are not always able to pay close attention to their children. By ensuring children are constantly monitored, the chances of drowning are extremely slim.

4. Sports injuries

Common sports-related injuries include injuries from playing football, frisbee, soccer, tennis or hiking. Sprained ankles, sprained wrists, or broken bones are the reasons behind many urgent care clinic visits during the summer months in the Pacific Northwest. Treatment for sports-related injuries usually consists of RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation). If you believe you have incurred a sports injury this summer, be sure to go to your doctor’s office to ensure the injury does not worsen.

5. Insect bites and diseases

Another common occurrence during the summer months is insect bites and diseases, including mosquito and tick-borne diseases. In addition to causing allergic reactions, mosquitoes can also spread bacteria and cause more serious infections. An easy way to prevent insect bites and diseases this summer is to wear insect repellent when you are outside.

While tick-borne diseases are not common in Washington, they are present in other states. If you plan on traveling this summer, be sure to wear tick repellent, as well as search for ticks when you are in the woods, brush or grassy places. It also helps to wear long sleeve shirts and pants while outdoors to ensure insects do not have access to your skin.

For more information about summer safety, check out the CDC website where you will find a lot of practical and useful information. Have a fun and safe summer!

Dr. Xiulian Chen is a family medicine physician at PacMed.