©iStockphoto.com/Dejan Ristovski Image by: ©iStockphoto.com/Dejan Ristovski
What you need to know: Plant poisoning results from contact with the resin of common poison ivy (a climbing or crawling vine with three-leaf clusters that are waxy green in spring and yellow or red with white berries in fall), poison oak (shrub with three coarse leaflets and hanging yellow flowers) or poison sumac (water-loving stalks with seven to 13 leaves).
Symptoms: Itchy, burning red rash develops within two days. It can progress to weeping blisters that take weeks to heal.
Treatment: Immediately wash exposed areas with soap and water. Ease itching with calamine lotion, cool showers or oatmeal baths, which also dry blisters.
Prevention: Silicone and petroleum barrier creams may protect skin. Wear gloves when gardening and fully cover arms, legs and feet during walks through natural habitats. Weeping blisters won't spread the rash, but contact with unevaporated resin on clothes, toys, garden and sports equipment, the family pet and dead plants can.
Seek medical attention: when extremely large blisters appear; there is swelling on sensitive areas, such as the mouth, face and genitals; or secondary infections develop within a broken blister.
What you need to know: Nonallergic reactions to bee, wasp, hornet and other stings result in local pain, itching and a welt around the sting site for about 48 hours. A small percentage of people experience severe allergic reactions, which can include unusual swelling anywhere on the body, hives, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, breathing difficulties and even, in rare cases, death. People who are allergic must have an immediate shot of epinephrine, via a spring-loaded EpiPen and a fast trip to a hospital. If you live more than 20 minutes from help or are travelling, carry extra EpiPens or ask your doctor about an Ana-Kit, which contains a higher dose of epinephrine.
Treatment: Bees leave a barbed stinger and a venom sac (which actually looks like a tiny sack). Flick or scrape it off with a fingernail, credit card or knife back. (Use tweezers only if you can certainly grasp the stinger below the venom sac.) For all nonallergic reactions use ice and calamine lotion or a paste of baking soda and water to reduce pain and itching.
Seek medical attention: immediately if an allergic reaction is evident or if there are multiple stings or ones around the mouth and eyes.
What you need to know: Ticks are tiny (about three-millimetre-long) spiderlike insects that attach themselves to the skin and feed on blood. Ticks can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and certain types of viral encephalitis, so the sooner you locate and remove the offending bug, the better.
Symptoms: A tick is barely visible and its bite is painless, but a tick grows to resemble a small blood-engorged pea within a few hours as it feeds.
Treatment: Gently grasp the tick's head as close to the skin as possible with fine-point tweezers. Do not sever the head beneath the skin. Carefully pull it out. Wash the area with antiseptic.
Prevention: Always wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants with cuffs tucked into socks when walking in the woods. Afterward, thoroughly check skin and scalp.
Seek medical attention: if rash, headache or flulike symptoms appear within a few days. Bites from infected ticks require antibiotic therapy.
What you need to know: Also known as prickly heat, this rashlike skin condition occurs during hot weather when close-fitting garments restrict air circulation and cause inflamed sweat glands. It affects children most often and can be a precursor of heatstroke.
Symptoms: Irritating raised, red rash.
Treatment: Take frequent lukewarm baths and use calamine lotion.
Prevention: Keep clean and cool, limit exposure to sun and avoid excessive exercise on hot days. Wear clothing made of breathable, natural fibres.
Seek medical attention: when inflammation doesn't ease within one day. A persistent rash may indicate other problems, such as allergies or measles.
What you need to know: All second- and third-degree burns require medical attention. Extensive burns, including first-degree ones, require medical help.
Symptoms: First-degree burns cause the skin to turn red or whitish red and may lightly blister. Superficial burns involve only the top layer of the skin and should be treated at home. Second-degree burns can cause blisters and rawness. Since some of the dermis (deep layer of the skin) remains unharmed, these burns can heal without scarring. Third-degree burns destroy the full thickness of the skin. If the burn is very deep, muscles and bones may be exposed. The burned area looks charred or waxy.
Treatment: Soothe the burn by submersing it in cool water or covering it with water-soaked cloth. Protect with sterile, lint-free, nonadhesive covering. Do not break blisters or use oils or ointments.
Seek medical attention: if burns are extensive (the definition of extensive varies depending on the degree of the burn – if in doubt, seek help); if they occur on children under age two, elderly people and people with chronic medical conditions that affect their immune systems; if there's an infection risk; if burns are on or near the face or throat; or if the burns interfere with breathing.
What you need to know: Heatstroke is a dangerous condition that occurs when the body temperature is 40C or higher. It can be caused by overexertion in a hot environment or a failure of the brain's thermostat.
Symptoms: A spike in body temperature, rapid pulse, laboured breathing, flushed skin that is dry or sweaty, restlessness, weariness, headache, dizziness and nausea. Within a few minutes a person with heatstroke may become unconscious.
Treatment: Reduce body temperature by immediately moving the person to shade, removing his unnecessary clothing and either sitting him in a tub of cool water (with constant supervision) or covering him with wet sheets or blankets. Check that breathing is normal. Provide cool, but not cold, water if person
is able to drink.
Prevention: Drink lots of clear fluids. Wear lightweight, breathable clothing that permits air circulation. Avoid excessive summer exertion, exposure to heat and direct sun; be extra cautious in intensely
humid conditions, which inhibit sweating.
Seek medical attention: immediately. Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency.
Sprains and breaks
What you need to know: A sprain, which is difficult to diagnose, is an injury to a ligament. A fracture is a crack or complete break in a bone.
Symptoms: Even minor injuries can swell, bruise and cause tremendous pain if touched or moved.
Treatment: Immediate treatment may reduce long-term discomfort from the injury. For sprains, rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are the cardinal rules. Do not straighten or bend the injured limb. To transport a person, first immobilize the injured limb in a comfortable position.
Seek medical attention: if there is any head or neck injury; if the bone is in an unnatural position beneath the skin; if there's loss of function or excessive pain (can't rotate ankle or bend knee); or if there is serious swelling or bruising. It is often difficult to distinguish between minor and major injuries. If you're uncertain, get the injury checked out by a doctor.
Cuts, scratches, and punctures
What you need to know: All cuts, scrapes or punctures can become infected. Expect heavy bleeding from the scalp and head even with minor cuts.
Treatment: Before dressing a wound, the first-aider should wash hands with soap and water. Run the wound under water. Apply gentle pressure with nonadhesive, sterile covering to control bleeding. If necessary, elevate the injured limb to reduce bleeding; use antiseptic wipes or ointment to prevent infection. Cover injury with bandage.
Seek medical attention: if bleeding cannot be controlled; if the puncture or cut is from a contaminated object (rusty metal or animal scratch); if the wound is a jagged cut needing stitches; or if the wound is on the head, where underlying fractures may exist or blood loss can lead to shock.
What you need to know: Any bite that breaks the skin, including human bites, can cause infection.
Treatment: Thoroughly clean a surface bite with soap and water and protect with a clean nonadhesive covering. Treat with an antiseptic. For a severe bite, allow some bleeding from the wound then wrap with gauze and exert gentle pressure to stop it.
Prevention: Teach children the risks of approaching, feeding and cornering wild and domestic animals. If camping, don't leave food or dirty dishes around.
Seek medical attention: if the bite breaks the skin. It could require stitches, oral antibiotics, a Tetanus shot or it may be a rabies risk.
For more great tips for staying healthy and safe this summer read "101 ways to enjoy your healthiest summer ever" in the August 2004 issue of Canadian Living magazine.
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