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    First Aid for Summer Barbecues

    Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC

    About the author

    Dr. Mary Williams, RN, DC

    Dr. Mary Williams, R.N., D.C is a Doctor of Chiropractic with an extensive background as a Registered Nurse and experienced Core Instructor for the American Heart Association. She has over 30 years of hands-on medical and instructional experience.

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    First Aid for Summer Barbecues

    It’s the height of summer—and that means sunshine, the great outdoors, and summer barbecues. These can be a perfect way to celebrate summer—but there are also plenty of opportunities for injury, especially if you have kids running around in close proximity to a grill. Here are a few first aid skills that could come in handy someday in making sure your barbecue is safe as well as fun.  

    fun family barbecue


    These are perhaps the most likely to happen at a barbecue, since grills, fire pits, camp stoves, and other heat sources are so crucial. First, it’s essential to make sure your grill or fire pit is far from where people are walking or playing. If you have kids, make sure they know to stay at least three feet from the grill at all times. Use long-handled grilling tools, and be sure to clean your grill periodically to prevent the buildup of flammable grease. Avoid adding any starter fluid after you’ve already ignited the grill; this can cause a large flame that puts you at serious risk. And be sure the coals are completely cool before emptying the grill.

    If you do get burned while using the grill, here are a few tips to follow:

    hand with bandage

    For minor burns, which redden the skin and cause some blisters but don’t penetrate into deeper skin layers, put cold water—not ice—on the burn immediately to reduce the swelling. You can also keep the burn from getting worse by cooling it quickly. Put a sterile pad loosely over the burn, and avoid popping any blisters. Generally, it should heal on its now.  

    For more serious burns, which can blister extensively and affect deeper skin and muscle areas, remove jewelry and clothing around the burn, cutting fabric if necessary. If there is cloth stuck to the burned skin, however, do not remove it. Cover the burn loosely with a clean, dry sheet or pad, and call 911 immediately. Monitor the victim for shock and signs of breathing problems, as the airway can swell due to smoke inhalation.

    If injured by a more serious fire causing extensive burns, call 911 immediately for medical assistance. Smoke inhalation is a form of burn to the respiratory organs and is serious. Some helpful first aid tips for dealing with burns are:

    • Use clean, cool water to treat burns.
    • Allow cool water to run over the burned area for several minutes.
    • Use a nonstick dressing from your first aid kit to cover the wound.
    • Remove jewelry and clothing that is not stuck to the skin. Swelling may make these difficult to remove later.
    • Leave clothing that is stuck to the wound alone.
    • Let medical personnel handle this.
    • Provide a warm blanket to cover the victim to prevent reactive hypothermia.

    bee on child's hand

    Bee stings

    Bee stings are fairly common in the summertime. When dealing with a bee sting, gently remove the stinger using a fingernail or the edge of a credit card—scrape, don’t pull; otherwise you could break off the stinger and push the venom sac further into the skin. Once you’ve done that, use soap and water to clean the wound, and apply antibiotic cream and a cool compress.

    Some people are allergic to bee stings. Signs of a serious bee sting allergy include:

    •     Swelling around the face, eyes, tongue, lips, or throat
    •     Wheezing or difficulty breathing
    •     Dizziness, cramps, nausea, or diarrhea
    •     Fainting
    •     Hives or a rash

    epi pen in arm

    For people with severe allergies, bee stings can be life-threatening. If you see symptoms of a bee allergy, call 911 immediately. Most people with these allergies carry epinephrine syringes and will probably know how to self-administer, but if the victim is a child or incapacitated, you may have to help. To use an epi-pen:

    •     Point the orange tip downward, and pull straight up to remove the blue safety cap without twisting or bending it.
    •     Push the orange tip firmly into the victim’s outer thigh until you hear a “click.” Hold the epi-pen in place for ten seconds.
    •     Even if you’ve used an epi-pen, the victim will still need medical attention—so call 911.

    children rolling in the grass

    Tick bites

    If you’re at a barbecue in a park, campsite or backyard where there are woods or undergrowth nearby, there could be ticks in the area. If this is a concern, dress kids in long pants and apply insect repellent.  Inspect them thoroughly for ticks at the end of the day. It usually takes about 24 hours for an infection to set in, so there should be no harm done if you catch the ticks early.

    tick on hand

    If you find a tick, use tweezers to hold it firmly near the head or mouth. Gently pull it off without twisting or crushing the body, being careful not to tug too hard—or the head could detach and stay in the skin. After removing the tick, clean the bite area with soap and water, and use an antiseptic. Monitor the site of the bite for up to 30 days afterward; a rash in the shape of concentric ring or circles could be a symptom of Lyme disease, along with fever, soreness, headaches, chest pain, and photosensitivity.

    man with heatstroke

    Heat exhaustion or heat stroke

    Heat exhaustion can happen when your core body temperature is elevated and you haven’t had enough water. More serious cases can result in heat stroke, which can be fatal.  

    Heat exhaustion can be caused by either dehydration or salt depletion. If you’re dehydrated, symptoms include extreme thirst, headache, fainting, and physical weakness. Salt depletion is characterized by nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and muscle cramps. Sweating and an elevated heartbeat may also occur. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids - keep Gatorade, sports drinks, juice or cool water handy in cases where you know you may be in the hot weather for an extended period of time.

    man sitting in shade

    If you think someone is suffering from heat stroke, get them immediately into a cool, shady area or an air-conditioned room. For more severe cases, a cool shower or sponge bath can help, as well as cool, wet towels and fans. Be sure to remove any tight or constricting clothing, and give the person lots of water.

    If these measures don’t cool the person down after about half an hour, they may be at risk for heat stroke. Symptoms include a core body temperature over 105° Fahrenheit, as well as headaches, muscle cramps, vomiting and nausea, rapid heartbeat or breathing, seizures, disorientation, and loss of consciousness.

    Heat stroke can be fatal, so it’s important to call 911 immediately if you suspect it. While waiting for emergency services, move the victim to a cool area and remove any constricting clothing. A cold shower or sponge bath could help cool the person down, as well as ice packs applied to the groin, neck, armpits, and back.

    To prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion, be sure to wear light-colored, lightweight, and loose-fitting clothing. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat and sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. In addition, drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

    family outdoor barbecue

    Barbecues should be an opportunity to have fun with family and friends—not suffer from illness or injury. But accidents happen, and the heat of summer can come with risks of heat exhaustion. Know prevention and basic first aid for burns, stings, heat exhaustion, and tick bites, and you should be able to keep your barbecues safe as well as fun.



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