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5 of the Most Common Causes of Summer ER Visits, and How to Avoid Them

Summer is a time for family fun in the sun, increased physical activity and vacationing in exciting, unfamiliar places.  Unfortunately, that also means individuals are at greater risk for potentially dangerous mishaps and accidents resulting in trips to the emergency room.

Several studies indicate that ER visits regularly spike during the summer months.  One from Kaiser Permanente, for example, analyzed the extent to which hospital visits increase from Memorial Day to Labor Day:

“While the longer days of summer allow for more outdoor activities, it also leads to a 15 percent to 27 percent increase in ER visits. Unfortunately, this spike in summer-related accidents and illnesses often involves children and a very distinct pattern of injury, much of which can be prevented.”

How to Avoid the Most Common Causes of Summer Trips to the ER

The only way to completely avoid danger during the active summer months is to stay inside and bolt the doors—but that wouldn’t exactly make for a happy summer experience.  What you can do is avoid unnecessary risks while enjoying the summer months.

Here are 5 of the most common causes of trips to the emergency room during the summer, and how to avoid them:

1.  Bicycle Injuries

In 2011, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. were taken to the emergency room as a result of a bicycle industry, the lion’s share of those occurring during the summer.  According to Dr. Barbara Gaines, a trauma surgeon:

"Bicycles are the most dangerous toys that we give our kids.  That said, I have three kids, and they all have bicycles."

Dr. Gaines recommends that both children and adults should always wear bike helmets to prevent the most dangerous bike-related injury, head trauma.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission agrees, pointing out that wearing a helmet will prevent 85% of head injuries during bike accidents.  Of course, a helmet won’t prevent the many other bike-related injuries, including bruises and broken bones.  To avoid these, don't ride your bike (or allow your children to ride theirs) on streets with heavy traffic, always stay in the bike lane (when one is available), and, when you’re in unfamiliar territory, ride slowly and be vigilant.

2.  Lawn Mower Accidents

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), almost 20,000 children are injured each year by the family lawn mower.  As such, these accidents are less common than many other causes of ER visits, but they’re also potentially more serious, often requiring surgery or, in the worst-case scenario, amputation.

The best thing you can do to prevent a lawn mower related injury, to yourself or a member of your family, is to ensure your lawn mower is properly maintained and in good working order.  You should also examine your yard to remove any potentially dangerous flying objects, like rocks and small tree limbs, before you mow.  Finally, make sure family members and friends stay out of the area where you’re mowing.

3.  Swimming Injuries

The most common swimming injuries are spinal injuries from diving and drownings.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 4,000 children and adults drowned each year from 1999 to 2010, and drownings represent 7% of all deaths from accidental injuries.  While adults are more likely to drown in natural bodies of water, children are at greatest risk in family and community pools. 

To avoid these serious swimming injuries, don’t take unnecessary risks while diving, like diving into an unfamiliar body of water (where underwater rocks not visible from the surface are a potential hazard), or diving from a great height.  Don’t attempt to swim out too far into the ocean, or across a wide body of water.  Finally, always make sure your children are supervised wherever they’re swimming, whether that’s in a pool, at the lake, or at the beach.

4.  Burns

The most common burn-related injury is sunburn.  Although the long-term danger of sunburn is related to the potential to develop skin cancers, staying in the sun too long can often have a more immediate impact, including a trip to the emergency room.  As Reuters notes:

“Although sunburns are highly preventable, they are still responsible for tens of thousands of expensive visits to U.S. emergency rooms each year, according to a recent analysis.  The total tab in 2013 for sunburn-related emergency room visits was $11.2 million, researchers report in The American Medical Association’s journal Dermatology, with the great majority of cases among people under age 30.”

Although sunburn is the most frequent burn trauma that occurs during the summer, there are others which are equally dangerous.  These include burns that occur during family barbecues, either from propane or children putting their hands on hot grates. 

To prevent sunburn injuries, limit exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., avoid tanning beds, and use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.  To avoid other common burns, make sure your barbecue grill is functioning properly, and supervise children carefully whenever the grill is on.

5.  Falls

Whether it’s an adult climbing a ladder for needed house repairs or a child playing on the jungle gym at your local park, falls are the most common reason for hospital visits during the summer, with on average more than 11 million falls requiring emergency care each year.  Because falls and the often-serious injuries they cause are so common, they require an abundance of caution. 

Make sure the ladder you’re using is sound and well-grounded before you use it.  Don’t attempt roof repairs without the proper safety equipment (like scaffolding), and always keep a close eye on your children when they’re playing on jungle gyms, trampolines and sliding boards at home or in the park.

Conclusion

It’s not possible to avoid every potential hazard during the summer, and you don’t want to spend every moment worrying about the possibility of injuries to yourself or a family member.  At the same time, however, it’s misguided to take unnecessary risks.  By exercising good judgment and taking appropriate cautions, you can avoid the most common causes of emergency room treatment and hospitalization, making the summer months what they should be—a time to enjoy fun in the sun with the people you love the most.