Summer first aid emergencies: key facts to know

Summer is here and when the sun - and the barbecue - come out, medical mishaps often follow. For minor burns and scalds, there are definite Dos and Don'ts. Read on for more summer health tips and advice.

Summer is here and when the sun - and the barbecue - come out, medical mishaps often follow.

If you're a keen gardener, do make sure your tetanus immunisations are up to date - if you had them in childhood and have had three boosters since then you should be protected for life, but do check with your practice nurse. It's rare, but a small-but-deep prick with a rose thorn could turn into a medical emergency.

For minor burns and scalds, there are definite Dos and Don'ts. For instance, the old wives' tale of putting butter on to a burn can make things worse - so can applying ice direct to the skin. Instead, run the affected area under cool or tepid water for 10-30 minutes. Simple painkillers will help, but don't apply creams or antiseptic gels and don't burst any blisters that appear. 

If you're going on holiday, it's worth taking a first aid kit with essentials like painkillers, antihistamine tablets, anti-inflammatory gel, loperamide tablets for tummy bugs and constipation relievers.

With a few sensible precautions, you can make the most of summer.

Fainting spells

At least half of people faint at least once, and it's more common in hot weather. One cause of fainting is low blood pressure, especially when you stand up - and a common cause of this is getting dehydrated. Standing very still in hot weather can also leave the brain short of blood (soldiers on parade are taught to keep clenching their calf muscles to keep the circulation going), but so can being short of fluids. In hot weather it's important to drink more (water is great, but up to four cups of coffee or eight cups of tea a day can also hydrate you) and avoid excess alcohol. If you feel light-headed and sick, sit down quickly with your head between your knees. If someone around you faints, lay them in the recovery position and, when they've come round, give them a drink and don't let them get up too fast.

Sunburn - too much of a sometimes-in-moderation-good-ish thing

We all need some sun to keep our vitamin D levels topped up, but it should never be enough to burn. In fact, any change in your skin colour is evidence that your skin has been damaged, even if it's a golden brown.

Don't forget that your skin may take a couple of hours to redden up - and that might be too late to avoid the misery of sunburn! If your skin starts to look red or feel hot, get out of the sun straightaway. Take a cool bath, drink plenty of fluids and use painkillers to relieve burning. Do watch out for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke (headache, sickness, dizziness) - in severe cases this can need hospital treatment

Stings and bites and what to do

If you're stung by a wasp, bee or hornet, you know about it! They inject venom into you, causing nasty pain followed by a red lump which usually goes within hours. With a biting insect - midges, mosquitoes, horseflies, ticks and fleas - you may not realise you've been bitten until your skin reacts up to 24 hours later, causing an itchy red lump which takes days to fade.

  • A cold flannel, simple painkillers or cream from your pharmacist can ease minor bites. If you have several, or the swelling and itch have spread, antihistamine tablets should help
  • If you're stung by a bee and the stinger has been left behind, scrape it out as fast as you can (fingernails or a credit card both work). Don't try to pluck it out with your fingers, as this can squeeze more venom into you
  • If, on the other hands, you've been strolling through woodland and realise you have a tick attached to you, grasp it as close to the skin as you can (ideally with tweezers or with two credit cards in a 'pincer' movement) and twist it off.

Beware the bee!

A few people develop a very serious allergic reaction to bee or wasp stings. Symptoms range from swelling around the face and an all-over rash to feeling faint, choking and collapse. If you've had even a mild version of this you'll need to carry an emergency injection of adrenaline with you at all times and should call an ambulance if you're ever stung again.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.