June 16, 2003

Survival Guide For The Summer
Burn Safety And Poison Information
Tips For The Summer And 4th Of July

The 4th of July conjures up images of barbecues, picnics and fireworks; but while the summer holiday is lots of fun, it also can be hazardous.

Following are some guidelines for preventing accidents, and what to do in case of emergency.


The UCSD Regional Burn Center will treat numerous children and adults with severe sunburns during the summer season. Often someone has dozed off while lying in the sun by the pool or at the beach. Even if the weather is not extremely hot, severe sunburn can occur even on gloomy days due to the intensity of the ultraviolet rays. Additionally, sun reflected off the water is even more intense and can lead to more serious burns.

The Burn Center recommends covering up, avoid falling asleep in the sun, and always apply sunscreen of 25 SPF or higher to prevent sunburn.

Hot Coals

The incidence of children, as well as adults, stepping or falling on burning coals at the beach and bay has increased dramatically over the years. Kids hit the beach running and before they realize it they are walking or falling on hot coals buried under the sand. Parents should always keep a watchful eye on toddlers and children, and adults should be cautious of fire rings or fire pits and avoid these areas.

Hot coals covered by sand can retain an intense heat for up to 24 hours. Anyone who walks for falls on the hot coals can be severely burned and a child can sustain life-threatening burns. Hot coals should always be disposed of in designated containers at the beach or bay.


Fireworks are illegal in San Diego County and extremely dangerous, especially those purchased in Mexico. Small fireworks called "poppers" can explode in a child's pocket and set the child's clothes on fire and result in serious burns.

Bee Stings--What To Do

Spending the day outside on the 4th of July puts anyone at risk of a bee sting. First aid for bee stings includes removing the bee's stinger by scraping it out with a fingernail or blunt edge of a knife. Wash the area well with soap and water. Immediately apply ice wrapped in a cloth for 10 to 15 minutes. (Remember that ice applied directly to the skin can cause damage to sensitive tissue.)

If an individual who is stung experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, swelling or itching eyes, or other symptoms of an allergic reaction, call 911 immediately. Fortunately, most bee stings are easily treatable and cause only minor discomfort.

Ocean Hazards

The San Diego Division of the California Poison Control System receives many calls from beachgoers who report being stung by venomous marine animals such as jellyfish, scorpion fish or stingrays. If stung by a jellyfish do not rub the tentacles with your hands, a towel, sand or clothing. Rinse the tentacles with household vinegar for at least 30 seconds to prevent further stings. If vinegar is not available, rinse the areas with large amounts of salt water. Do not use fresh water; this may cause the tentacles to release venom. Scorpion fish or stingrays, the stinger should be removed and the wound washed with soap and water.

Hiking and Camping Hazards

In these warm months, many people head away from the beach and toward the hills for hiking, camping and other activities. But the hills and deserts are also home to rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes account for 99 percent of human deaths from snakebites in the United States. Most bites occur when people handle the snakes or when they stick their hands down holes or under logs and touch one.

In some rattlesnake bites, no venom is injected into the wound, but because it is impossible to know if venom has or hasn't been injected, getting medical treatment quickly is important.

Administration of antivenin in a hospital is the most important treatment. Traditional first aid treatments -- applying ice, using a tourniquet, or applying suction to the wound -- have little value and may cause more injury.

If you are in a remote area when bitten by a rattler, first immobilize the wounded area, especially for a hand or arm bite, then proceed slowly to a vehicle. Moving slowly will keep the heart rate low and help prevent the venom from spreading. (If bitten on the leg or foot, you will have to use that limb to get to the vehicle, unless someone can carry you. In that case, it is very important to move slowly.) Drive to the nearest phone, call 911 and wait for assistance. If there is no phone nearby, proceed to the nearest hospital.

"In the past, there was only one antivenin on the market for snakebites, but a new antivenin made from sheep serum is now available that is expected to reduce adverse reactions, promises to be safer than its predecessor and can be infused within minutes," said Richard Clark, M.D., Medical Director, San Diego Division of the California Poison Control System.


Lighter fluid kept on hand to light the grill to cook hot dogs and hamburgers can turn a fun event into a health emergency, if a curious child swallows the charcoal lighter fluid, which can cause serious poisoning.

If a child swallows lighter fluid, immediately wipe off any fluid on the exposed skin. It is important not to make the child vomit. Ipecac syrup should never be used for this particular poisoning emergency or when any petroleum distillate products, such as pine oil cleaners, furniture polishes or gasoline, are ingested. If the child is coughing or has vomited, take the child to the nearest emergency room for a chest x-ray.

Petroleum distillate charcoal lighter fluid can cause serious or potentially life-threatening chemical pneumonia. The substance can enter the lungs when the child tries to swallow or vomit. If a person, adult or child, has difficulty breathing after swallowing any poison, especially charcoal lighter fluid, call 911 immediately.

A Safe Picnic

For a worry-free picnic, keep perishable food--ham, potato or macaroni salad, hamburgers, hot dogs, lunch meat, cooked beef or chicken, deviled eggs, custard or cream pies--in a cooler with ice. Put leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating.

Toddlers can choke trying to swallow many picnic foods whole such as hot dogs, hard-boiled eggs, or marshmallows. Cut hot dogs lengthwise in narrow strips before serving, slice up other foods into small bite-sized pieces, and keep children seated while they are eating.

When possible, store the cooler in the passenger area of the car during the trip home. It's cooler than the trunk.

UCSD Regional Burn Center offer these 25 burn safety tips:

  1. Learn CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and first aid.. Prepare and practice exit drills. Learn "two ways out."
  2. Check electrical plugs and cords for dirt or fraying.
  3. Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees.
  4. Check smoke detectors every month and change the batteries twice a year.
  5. Store flammable liquids safely.
  6. Use sun block whenever you are in the sun.
  7. Use caution with hot automobile radiators.
  8. Supervise children near fireworks. Don't allow fireworks in the home and instead go to a professional display.
  9. Watch for hot tar and coals on the beach, and discard your own coals in a designated receptacle.
  10. Never leave a fire unattended.
  11. Never play games near a fire pit or campfire.
  12. Never use sand to extinguish a campfire. Sand insulates heat.
  13. Douse all campfires with water.
  14. Keep clothing irons and curling irons out of the reach of children.. Keep children out of the kitchen when cooking.
  15. Keep hot liquids away from table and counter edges and turn pot handles in on the stove.
  16. Use caution when removing the wrapping or lids from microwaved or steamed food—steam cause serious burns.
  17. Don't pour hot liquids around children.
  18. Don't serve hot food or liquids from a pan with children sitting at the table.
  19. Do keep coffeepots, crockpots and deep fryers pushed to the back of the counter.
  20. Don't put ice on small burns. Use cool water, and in the event of a serious burn
  21. Immerse the affected area in a bath of cool water.
  22. Always discard smoking materials in a deep or wet receptacle.
  23. Keep matches out of reach of children. . Never leave children alone, not even for "a quick trip to the neighbors."
  24. Burn injuries can be serious and in case of a serious burn injury call 911 for an emergency response.
  25. # # #

    Eileen Callahan

    UCSD Health Sciences Communications HealthBeat: http://health.ucsd.edu/news/