Summer Dangers Ahead

May 28, 2009

Hospital Offers Safety and Treatment Tips

Summer is a time for outdoor fun. It's also the busiest time of the year for hospital emergency rooms.

University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP) is known for offering prompt, effective emergency care, and its Fast Track system usually treats and releases patients with minor emergencies in 90 minutes or less. Most people would agree, however, that the best visit to the emergency room is the one that's avoided entirely.

Craig Gronczewski, MD, chairman of UMCP's Department of Emergency Medicine, has some advice to help people keep themselves and their families safe - and how to know the difference between a true emergency and an injury that's treatable at home.

"The Emergency Department is definitely at its busiest in the summer, with people out in the sun, enjoying the outdoors," said Dr. Gronczewski, MD. "Since people tend to be more active in the summer, we do see our share of orthopedic injuries in the ED, but many of our emergency cases are people suffering from heat- and sun-related conditions, insect bites, and allergic reactions to poison ivy, for example, that can often be effectively treated at home."

Too Much Fun in the Sun

Spending too much time in the sun, or even in the shade on an extremely hot and humid day, can result in heat cramps, exhaustion, and sunburn. The best treatment for most of these conditions is to rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids.

"Heat stroke, however, is a true medical emergency," said Dr. Gronczewski. "People suffering from heat or sun stroke often exhibit confusion, anxiety, seizures and hallucinations. They will feel hot, be unable to cool down and no longer sweat."

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate emergency attention since more than half of all people suffering heat or sun stroke die if left untreated, Dr. Gronczewski added.

Take the Sting out of Insect Bites

Most insect bites and stings can cause pain, redness and swelling at and around the site, which can be treated with ice and an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl to relieve the itching and inflammation.

"To remove a stinger, avoid using tweezers," said Dr. Gronczewski. "The squeezing action may release more venom into the person. A simple trick is to start by putting some baking powder on the stinger and then gently scraping it out with a credit card, or something similar."

If you experience a severe allergic reaction or difficulty breathing following a bite or sting, however, immediate emergency medical attention is necessary.

Tackling Ticks

While ticks are the main transmitters of Lyme disease, finding a tick on yourself or someone else does not automatically mean you are infected, and ticks removed from patients are not tested for the disease. The type of tick that often carries Lyme is the size of a pinhead and generally must be on your body for six to 24 hours to transmit the disease, said Dr. Gronczewski.

Use tweezers to remove a tick as close to the skin surface as possible, applying a slow and steady pressure to extract the entire body and head. If the head cannot be removed, seek prompt medical attention. And never attempt to force a tick out by suffocating it with alcohol or holding a lit match to the area, this will only agitate it and result in increasing the risk of disease transmission.

Poison Ivy

Exposure to poison ivy, poison oak and sumac can be treated with over-the-counter itch and inflammation ointments, and should only require emergency medical treatment if there are signs of infection, fever, or severe redness, or if the condition is overwhelmingly uncomfortable. When appropriate, the emergency room physicians are able to provide medication to reduce these symptoms.

UMCP Agreement with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

UMCP's Emergency Department sees more than 38,000 patients per year, including more than 6,000 children.  Starting this summer, physicians from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) will be providing services for children at UMCP at all levels, including consultations for emergency care whenever necessary.

CHOP will provide pediatric hospitalists on-site 24/7 to care for children and adolescents who are admitted to UMCP's Pediatric Unit. The pediatric hospitalists also will provide pediatric consultation to the Emergency Department and the Well Baby Nursery.  CHOP neonatologists will provide coverage in the Special Care Nursery.

CHOP, one of the leading pediatric hospitals and research facilities in the world, is ranked as the Best Children's Hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report and Parents Magazine.  In the February 2009 issue, Parents Magazine also rates CHOP as tops in a number of specific areas in the study, including emergency medicine and neonatology.

UMCP's Fast Track emergency services are available from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. For more information about the Emergency Department at University Medical Center at Princeton, contact 609.497.4431 or visit