First Aid for the Outdoors

As the weather warms up and we begin to spend long hours being active outdoors, it is a good time to review prevention and first aid for common outdoor hazards.

Many injuries can be avoided by taking standard safety precautions and being alert. Slather on the sunscreen before heading outside. In hot weather or during strenuous activity, make sure plenty of drinking water is available. Always supervise children around water. Move potential obstacles and hazards out of the way so that people won't trip over them. Teach children about the dangers of electricity. Handle hot foods and liquids carefully, and keep toddlers away from stoves, barbecue grills, and campfires. Learn about ladder safety and keep your ladders where young children cannot easily access them.

Mosquito Bites: DEET, an insect repellent often recommended for protection against mosquito-borne illnesses, should not be used on children because it is absorbed through the skin. Whenever possible, use non-DEET repellents or natural repellents such as citronella oil. If you must use an insect repellent containing DEET, apply it on clothing rather than skin, and avoid rubbing it into cuts and open wounds. Do not apply it on the child's hands or around the eyes and mouth. Be careful not to inhale spray repellents and not to spray near food. Wash off the repellent with soap and water as soon as you come indoors.

You can avoid disease-carrying mosquitoes by coming indoors when at dusk. Reduce mosquitoes in areas where children play by removing standing water, and keep mosquitoes away from outdoor picnics with torches, citronella candles, or mosquito zappers.  

Spider Bites: Spider bites, which are common in Citrus County, are often confused with bug bites. Look for two tiny punctures instead of a single hole. A spider bite typically feels like a pinprick, followed several hours later by soreness, swelling, and sometimes a water-filled blister.  Wash the site of the bite with soap and water, and apply cool compresses. Aspirin and antihistamines can help relieve discomfort. Do not interfere with the blister. There are two types of venomous spiders in Florida, black widow (with a red hourglass on the back) and brown recluse (with a brown violin-shaped marking on the back). With brown recluse bites, the blister sometimes sloughs off, leaving a lesion. A bite by a black widow should receive prompt medical attention.

Tick Bites: When you spend time in the woods, inspect your body for ticks and shower soon after you come indoors to prevent tick bites.  If the head of a tick breaks off and remains embedded in your skin, apply antibacterial cream and let your skin heal by itself. STARI (Southern Tick-associated Rash Illness), spread by the lone star tick, can cause a red rash more than three inches across around the bite, accompanied by fatigue, fever, and headaches.    

Bee and Wasp Stings: Quickly apply household ammonia or a paste of baking soda and water to partially neutralize an ant, bee, or wasp sting. Use ice to minimize the swelling, and an itching cream to relieve the discomfort that follows. A person who experiences difficulty breathing after a sting may be having an allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. If someone in your household has a known allergy to bee stings, always keep an epinephrin "pen" on hand.

Cut or Wound: To stop bleeding, apply steady direct pressure to a wound with a sterile gauze pad or a clean cloth. Once a cut has stopped bleeding, clean it, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover it with a bandage to keep it clean. A deep cut may require stitches. If a wound on an arm or leg is bleeding excessively, tie a scarf or necktie around the limb close to the armpit or groin, elevate the wound above the heart, and seek medical attention.

Skinned Knee: A skinned knee or grazed elbow typically heals by itself if it is properly cleaned. Wash it gently with soap and running water to remove grit and sand. Then apply first aid cream and cover with a loose bandage. Seek medical attention if the wound shows signs of infection, interferes with the movement of a major joint, or covers a large area.

Skin Infection: If the area around a bite or scratch becomes covered with small pimples, or if red areas appear on other parts of the body, see your doctor. Community-associated (CA) MRSA, a drug-resistant skin infection spread by person-to-person contact, often starts as a reddened area or pimple that resembles a bug bite, but causes abnormal pain. It appears in other areas and does not respond to antibacterial ointments.

Electrocution: Do not let your children play outside after a storm until you know the area is safe. Downed power lines are very dangerous, and the electric current can be transmitted through puddles of water. Never touch someone who is in contact with electricity. Use an object made of wood, rubber, or glass to push the person away from the power source before attempting first aid. Call for help and begin CPR.

Sunburn: At the beach or swimming pool, reapply sunscreen at regular intervals. You can get sunburned even in the shade. If you do become sunburned, take a cool shower or apply cool, moist towels to the area. Use an aloe vera or moisturizing lotion several times a day, and leave any blisters alone. If a blister pops by itself, use an antibacterial ointment to prevent infection. Stay out of the sun until you have recovered.

Heat Exhaustion:  Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headache; nausea; dizziness or faintness; rapid heartbeat; cool, moist, skin; heat cramps; and dark-colored urine. Have the victim lie down in the shade or in an air conditioned room with feet elevated. Loosen clothing and sponge or spray him with cool water. Have him drink cool water or another non-caffeinated beverage. Seek immediate medical attention if the person's temperature rises over 103 degrees or he seems disoriented. 

Take a few minutes to study first aid, and know how to access first aid information quickly in an emergency. The Red Cross first aid book is now available as a cell phone app, First Aid by the Red Cross. Several websites offer reliable information and instructions for medical emergencies, including Mayo Clinic First Aid.

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