Monday, July 25, 2016


Treating the inevitable summer mishaps

It’s summertime and there is an abundance of seasonal activities to get involved in like barbeques, picnics, kayaking, hiking, fireworks, and just poolside relaxing. It’s my favorite time of year, but the nurse in me is compelled to look at the health and safety aspect of summer: inherent in those activities can come the inevitable health problems: muscle sprains, sunburns, heat exhaustion, and grill burns. The questions here is — what do you do if band-aids, antibiotic ointments, and a bag of ice don’t relieve or alleviate the injury?

Hospital emergency departments are available 24/7, but many of the people seeking medical care do not have true emergencies. Waiting times and co-pays are usually much less at walk- in- clinics and in your primary care provider’s office.

I caution, however, if you feel that you do have a life-threatening emergency, please go directly to an emergency department where the triage nurse will evaluate you to determine the severity of your problem. Those with life-threatening conditions are of course treated first.

True emergencies, requiring emergency department care include:

• Sudden slurred speech, visual changes or weakness
• Numbness or paralysis of an arm or leg
• Chest pain
• Abdominal pain
• Allergic reactions
• Loss of consciousness
• Drug overdose or poisoning
• Serious burns
• Head injuries
• Spinal injuries
• Heavy bleeding
• Severe trouble breathing

Calling 911 for an ambulance is one of the most important steps you can take in a true emergency situation. Paramedics can begin treatment on the way to the hospital and alert special response teams to get equipment and rooms ready for when you arrive. This is especially important for someone suffering from a heart attack or stroke.

So how do we know what health problems are appropriately treated by making a same-day appointment with your primary care provider, or going to a walk-in urgent care center? Here are some examples of non-emergent health problems:

• Mild asthma attacks
• Skin or ear infections
• Cuts
• Minor burns and rashes
• Sore throats and flu-like symptoms
• Minor broken bones
• Muscle strains and sprains
• Urinary tract infections
• Coughs and colds

A good rule of thumb: if you can wait for several hours at an emergency room to be seen, the problem may not be an emergency. It is possible that you may experience an extended wait because someone else arrived with a life threatening injury. Take care and enjoy this summer safely, out of harm’s way. I would much prefer to meet and greet you at a local poolside gathering than in the emergency room.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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