Summertime Health Emergencies: Home Care Vs. Doctor’s Office

We bet your summertime plans include swimming, biking and a little gardening.

A trip to the emergency room probably isn’t on your to-do list. But what if a bee stings you mid-backstroke? Or you get dizzy because you didn’t bring enough water on that bike ride? Or your young one gets poison ivy while hiking in the woods?

Of course, you should try to avoid such emergencies. “Do all you can to prevent summer health issues,” says Dr. Matthew Plofsky, family medicine physician with NorthShore University HealthSystem Medical Group. “Many of them, like sunburn and heat stroke, are preventable. Your best weapons are appropriate clothing, sunblock and staying hydrated.”

Okay … okay … we hear ya, doc. But if it’s too late for prevention, or an accident just happens, here’s what you can do to treat summer ailments at home (and advice on when to go to the doctor).

Bee Stings
Home remedy: Remove it. “If the stinger is still inside the bite, don’t squeeze it out,” Plofsky says. “You could inject more of the venom. Instead, pick it out with a tweezer.”
Next, apply a cool compress and take a Benadryl to prevent a larger reaction.

Former Highland Park resident Grazia Ori Cunningham knows her son, Milan, suffers from severe allergic reactions to bee stings. Not treating such a bite could be deadly. “I always keep an EpiPen in the house,” she says. They’re prescription only, so ask your doctor if you should keep one on hand.

When to see a doctor: “If you have a systematic response, meaning you get hives or facial swelling, head to the ER,” Plofsky says.

Heat Rash
Home remedies: “Heat rash occurs when your sweat ducts get plugged up and don’t drain properly,” says Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Children’s Memorial Hospital. “Newborns are more susceptible because their sweat glands aren’t fully developed.” Things that can help heat rash include wearing breathable clothing, taking it easy to decrease sweat production, and using air conditioning or fans.

For a homespun idea from a non-M.D., try this tip from Elmhurst resident Laura Liutikas: Apply powder to the infected area to remove excess moisture, which only makes a heat rash worse.

When to see a doctor: Sheehan says, “Heat rash should clear up on its own, but in the rare circumstance it lasts longer than a few days or gets worse or looks infected, you should see a doctor.”

Home remedy: Do all you can to prevent one. “Your sunblock should be at least a 30 SPF,” Plofsky says. “Apply it before you go outside and reapply every three hours. Reapply more often if you are swimming.”

If you do get too much sun, he suggests treating the sunburn with a cool compress and hydrocortisone cream.

When to see a doctor: Plofsky says blistering is a sign that you may have a second-degree burn. “In that case, you need to get a prescription antibiotic ointment,” he says.

Swimmer’s Ear
Home remedies: “Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, usually triggered when water remains in one’s ear after swimming,” says Sheehan. There are things parents can do to prevent swimmer’s ear. Earplugs can help, as can drying the ears with a towel, or a hairdryer. Don’t use a cotton swab or anything small because it could scratch the canal and make it more susceptible to swimmer’s ear.

When to see the doctor: Sheehan says that the only surefire way to get rid of swimmer’s ear is to obtain prescription eardrops from a doctor. So go as soon as possible!

Poison Ivy
Home remedies: “If you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, the most important thing to do is to wash yourself, and wash your clothes, so that you don’t spread it to other parts of your body,” says Plofsky. “You can treat most cases by taking a Benadryl and covering the skin with hydrocortisone.”

When to see a doctor: According to Plofsky, if a large part of your body has been exposed, or the rash oozes liquid, you’ll need a prescription for oral steroids.

Mosquito Bites
Home remedies: “Children can get remarkable local swelling from mosquito bites,” says Sheehan. Some things that can help are ice packs, hydrocortisone ointment or an antihistamine. Be sure to call your doctor for the right antihistamine dosage if a child is less than 2 years old.

When to see a doctor:
A small percentage of people have severe allergic reactions to mosquito bites. “Fortunately this is extremely rare, but if you child develops high fever, severe headache or other signs of serious illness, see a health care provider even if the bite doesn’t look bad,” Sheehan says.

Skinned Knees or Elbows
Home remedies: Cunningham says, “This is what works for my kids: Clean the wound with non-burning antiseptic, put a Toy Story Band-Aid on it and give the boo-boo a big old fat kiss. It’s amazing how much that last step really speeds up the healing process.”

When to see a doctor:
According to the Mayo Clinic, wounds more than ¼ inch deep will probably need stitches.

Here’s hoping you spend more time outdoors this summer than you do in triage.

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