By MARSHA CANRIGHT Correspondent

No beautiful day at the beach should end in the emergency department. The number of accidental injuries goes up in summer months with common miseries like a blistering sunburn, red ant bites, food poisoning, jellyfish stings, fishhooks, dehydration and burns from outdoor grilling.

There are more serious dangers too. The heat can sneak up on you and cause serious illness; car and bicycle accidents increase between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and ocean riptides can cause even strong swimmers to panic and risk drowning.

Not all injuries are preventable, but trying a few safety measures may help you dodge the odds.


“Ultra violent rays, just like cigarettes, are a known carcinogen,” said Erica Kelly, a dermatologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

She is also a mother with active teens who knows how challenging sun protection can be and the bad effects if you fail to do it properly.

Burned skin can eventually lead to a melanoma long before it results in wrinkles.

Avoiding sunburns

To avoid: Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when UV rays are most intense or whenever your shadow is shorter than you are, Kelly said.

If that’s not possible, use a generous amount of sunscreen and reapply every two hours or more if you are in salt water. Remember to use protection on your face, ears and lips, which are sometimes forgotten. Wear a brimmed hat and protective clothing.

New types of clothing treated to ensure UPF 50 protection for people engaged in outdoor activities and sport-specific clothing is available for surfers and runners, among others.

“My children were in a beach volleyball tournament a few weeks ago, and they were outside in the sun all day long. I set up a canopy for shade, brought 10 types of sunscreen, had protective clothing, and with all this preparation, nobody got a sunburn,” she said.

Kelly recommends that people not depend on having a base tan to keep from getting a burn.
“Some pigment will help but a tan is still skin damage, and some people with fair skin will always burn unless they have sun protection,” she said.

For babies younger than six months, the best approach is to keep them out of the sun. Sunscreens may be too strong for a baby’s sensitive skin. If it’s not possible to keep the baby out of the sun, talk with your physician about the best sunscreen for an infant to wear.
“If you do get a miserable sunburn, thre’s not much you can do but wait it out, and take Ibuprophen for the inflamation,” Kelly said.

Weird fact: If you are squeezing limes and are out in the sun, it will intensify the sun’s reaction. You can blister everywhere the juice has touched. I see if often enough to recognize it, Kelly said. If you’re squeezing limes, be sure to wash your hands well when you’re done.


“People need to respect the heat; it can sneak up on you and make you very sick very quickly,” said Christine Wade, director of the medical branch emergency center.

To avoid heat illness and ultimately heat stroke, limit your time outside; limit the amount of strenuous activity; take frequent breaks; drink lots of fluids including ones that replace electrolytes like Gatorade.

For pets, try to keep them inside in the hottest part of the day, and make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water, she said.

Also, if you’re walking your dog outside, put your hand down on the pavement for at least five seconds. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws.

Food poisoning

To avoid: If you are in doubt about any food you have, throw it out. Think about what you are packing for your picnic beforehand.

Treatment: Symptoms of food poisoning strike very quickly. The person has abdominal cramping and nausea, along with diarrhea and vomiting. The cramping is less severe after the vomiting, and then it builds up again. The danger is a person can get dehydrated, and they will certainly feel miserable. To avoid dehydration, you should check with your family doctor or visit the nearest emergency department.

Red ant or snake bites

Island life includes red ants with vicious bites and several varieties of snakes including three poisonous ones: rattlesnakes, copperheads and corals.

If you live here and spend time gardening or being out in the yard, pay special attention to where you step. Ant mounds can grow up almost overnight, and if you accidentally stand on a red ant hill, the ants will respond quickly and their bites are memorable.

Red ants

To avoid: Wear sturdy boots with your pants tucked in, and stay away from tall grass. If you are working in the yard, shake the top of bushes before you put your hand in.

Treatment: If you are bitten by a snake that you believe is poisonous, go to the nearest emergency department or call 911 for assistance. Try to stay calm. Keep the area immobile, and don’t try to cut it or suck the venom out. Don’t put on a tourniquet. Keep it immobile and go the emergency department. Remember, even if you are bitten by a poisonous snake, not all snake bites carry venom.

Poison ivy

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are plants that can cause a rash if you come in direct contact with the oily resin found in them. At certain times of the year it’s everywhere; in backyards, dunes, parks, climbing on fences, especially in years when there has been plenty of rain.

To avoid: Remember the poem: “Leaflets three, quickly flee.” The best way to protect against poison ivy and poison oak is to know what it looks like and don’t go near it. Also, wear protective clothing when visiting natural areas or gardening in your own backyard. Different people are more or less reactive to the toxins, but it can make most people miserable.
Treatment: Wash the affected area as soon as you know you’ve been exposed. If you react badly, you will need the emergency department to have a steroid injection. In rare cases, people who are highly allergic to poison ivy, oak and sumac may break out in a rash and begin to swell in four to 12 hours. Blisters erupt on their skin, and their eyes may swell shut. This is an emergency. Call 911 and get the person to an emergency department as soon as possible.

Household poisons

Who would drink sunscreen? It seems little children will. Possibly attracted by bright packaging and availability (because it’s not seen as a harmful substance), it just becomes one of the things that some children try, according to Jean Cleary, director of the Southeast Poison Control Center.

“It’s not good for you, of course, but it doesn’t taste that good, so mostly small amounts are ingested,” she said.
This can be set right by rinsing out their mouth, giving them milk to drink to coat their stomach and sending them on their way.

Other poisons are significantly more dangerous. Parents who take a grill to the beach or in their own backyards should be careful about where the charcoal starter fluid is stored.

“It’s something children will try because they’ll drink anything,” Cleary said. “I also caution parents and grandparents who are using E-cigarettes or smokeless cigarettes to be certain that the liquid nicotine refills are stored away from children.”

She said there have been several deaths from young children drinking the liquid.

We all do more laundry in the summer, and if you are using convenient laundry pods, be aware that these are another draw for toddlers to find and pop in their mouth.

To avoid: Supervision is the best way to prevent a child from getting injured, but no parent or caregiver can watch a child 100 percent of the time. It’s important to keep prescription medications, over the counter medications, household cleaners and other dangerous items locked away or in a place where a child cannot access them. Don’t leave prescription drugs in your purse.

Treatment: If you feel you or your child has been poisoned, call the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222. It’s available 24 hours every day, seven days a week. Experts will help you be calm and determine what course to follow.

Drowning or near drowning

“The ocean is the ocean — it’s not a swimming pool,” said Karl Baden Fire Chief at Jamaica Beach who responds to emergency calls on the west end of the island. “There are dangerous currents, waves and marine life, so you have to use common sense and stay aware.”

He said the most dangerous places on the island for swimming are both ends of the island, Boddeker Road and San Luis Pass, he said, because they have strong currents and the depth is not consistent. You can be knee-deep one minute and in 10 feet of water the next.

To avoid: Swim on a beach patrolled by a lifeguard. Swim with a friend. Don’t swim where there are “Do Not Swim” signs. Most of the people who have nearly drowned or died were within 50 feet of a No Swim sign, Baden said.

In the event that you are caught in a rip current, remember to stay calm. Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in the direction following the shoreline. When you are out of the current, swim toward shore. If you are unable to swim out of the current, float or tread water. If possible, wave your arms to draw attention to yourself and yell for help.
“If you are boating, wear a life preserver. If you are wade fishing, have some kind of flotation device than can give you an edge if you step in a hole,” he said.


Jellyfish stings are common in the latter part of the summer, although stingrays are active throughout the summertime. Both stings are painful and some people have a much stronger reaction than others and require medical attention.
To avoid: “When you’re walking in the ocean, be sure to shuffle your feet instead of picking them up,” Baden said. “If you’re shuffling, sea creatures will sense the vibration and get out of the way, including stingrays which burrow in the sand.”

Treatment: A jellyfish sting should be flushed continuously with seawater. Emergency physicians recommend meat tenderizer on the wound with follow-up care at an emergency or urgent care center.


Every year, fishermen who have hooked themselves show up for emergency care.

Treatment: Don’t try to remove a hook yourself. Because the hooks have barbs, you’ll likely do even more damage.
“We send these to an urgent care or the emergency department where they have the appropriate tools to remove a hook, and antibiotics, which will also be needed,” he said.