August 2, 2013 - Eminent Dangers

With the summer upon us, there are silent predators everywhere.

Bug eyed damselfly, summer bugs, insect bites, summer bites, pests, stings, venom

A number of medical problems are significantly more common during the warmer months and have the potential to be dangerous or even life threatening if mismanaged or ignored.

Let’s take a moment to look at truth vs. fiction:

  • Sunburns can be dangerous.
    • Sunburn is usually uncomfortable but not dangerous. However, if it is over a large area of the body, or if there are areas of 2nd degree burns causing blistering, it may warrant medical attention.
    • If nausea, vomiting or chills occur, see your doctor immediately. This may be an indicator of sun poisoning, which is much more serious. Management may include steroids and IV fluids, but rarely is hospitalization necessary.
  • Sunscreens protect us from all skin damage, depending on the SPF.
    • This is only partially true. Sunscreens block much of the harmful UV radiation from the sun, but not those that can cause melanomas. This is one of the most dreaded of skin cancers. And if it develops, it is often fatal.
    • The best prevention is limiting sun exposure. You can still tan, just don’t be crazy about it.
  • Heat Stroke
    • This is a big deal. If you are overheated, your body does things to cause you to lose heat, the most significant of which is sweating. Sweating cools our body core temperature, which is essential to staying alive. If you stop sweating because you are dehydrated or your body is shutting down—you’re officially in trouble. It is imperative that you seek medical attention immediately, in an Urgent Care or ER, or some place that has the capacity to offer IV fluids and other support.
  • Insect stings are safe as long as they hurt when they happen.
          • I have never understood this one—it is not true. Several complications can occur if you are stung (stinging requires a stinger—as in a bee,  wasp or scorpion) or bit (biting requires a mandible—as in most spiders). Spiders that sting do not have a stinger—they have mandibles that inject venom. Uber creepy …
          • Most of the time, my patients present with a sore that looks like a sting, but don’t recall receiving one.
              • This usually means it was not from a bee, wasp, hornet, scorpion (yes, they are common in Alabama), black widow, or fire ant—to name a few. Those critters let us know when they sting. But that leaves plenty of other bugs that can cause allergic reaction, or infection—even cellulitis or abscesses.
                • Cellulitis is a severe inflammatory response of the skin to infection. It is a dangerous condition and should be taken seriously. This requires the right antibiotics and potentially minor surgical intervention. For further information, see If You Have MRSA, What You Do Next Can Kill You. See your doctor right away.
                • Allergic reactions to bites or stings usually cause a rash including urticaria or hives. This may be mildly to severely itchy. Over-the-counter Benadryl is a good start for anyone over 2 years of age, but seek medical attention as well. It could get worse and cause trouble breathing, a condition which is life threatening.
          • One thing to remember—any bite or sting can cause the MRSA we talked about in the Medical Moment blog linked above.
          • A bite always needs medical attention if:
            • It gets worse daily
            • Has an obvious abscess (pus pocket) associated with it
            • Is painful to light touch
            • You are running a fever
            • You feel extreme fatigue
          • It needs Emergency attention if:
              • It has a red streak coming from the sore upward toward the body. This is referred to as blood poisoning, and is life threatening if left untreated.

    If you have a bite or sting that concerns you, get it checked by your medical provider.

    Any tick bite should be evaluated with blood work if fatigue and/or fever develops anytime from 2-20 days after the bite. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Lyme disease are alive and well in Alabama, and many other parts of the country also.

    Do you have questions or comments? Please feel free to note them in the comment section below.