Backpacking and hiking are popular outdoor activities, but a good time may be spoiled by animals and plants that can negatively affect your health. The following tips will help you to be aware of a few issues that lurk in the great outdoors.
If you have outdoor activity plans, it is important to be able to spot dangerous plants. Some of the most common dangerous plants are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, all members of the cashew family. These plants tend to be fragile, and the smallest break in the leaves or stems can release what is known as urushiol oil. Exposure to this oil can result in an itchy, red rash with localized swelling and weeping blisters.
If you are exposed and able to wash the affected areas of skin with soap and water within 15 minutes, you may not develop symptoms described above. Otherwise, relief of these symptoms may be provided by the use of calamine lotion, which cools the skin to increase vessel constriction and reduces the amount of leakage of the blisters. Remember that any contact with garments, pet fur, outer clothing or sap-coated smoke from burning these types of plants can result in urushiol oil contact to the skin and cause the skin rash and blistering.
A well-known group of pests that are encountered in outdoor activities include mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and spiders. Encounters with these pests can cause itching and swelling of the affected area.
Tips to avoid insects:
- Wear long sleeves and pants to reduce the surface area available for insect biting.
- Avoid wearing brightly-colored clothing since some insects are especially drawn to bright colors.
- Stay away from areas with potential standing water such as low drainage areas, barrels and flower pots with standing water, mosquitoes breed in standing water.
- Utilize insect repellent. Always use according to directions.
- Repellents applied to the skin should not be used on the face. If using on an infant or child, avoid getting the repellent on their hands, face or irritated skin. For children under 10, repellents with greater than 10% DEET should not be used.
- Specific repellents are available for fleas and spiders. Be sure to follow the recommended uses, especially if young children or pets are in the areas to be treated. If the repellent is ingested, check the label for directions or call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for care instructions.
After a day of outdoor activity, conduct a body check on yourself and your children to make sure you haven’t picked up a tick. Ticks should to be removed as soon as they are seen.
Tips for tick removal:
- Take a pair of slender tweezers and hold them as close to the skin as possible, then gently and steadily pull the tick straight out.
- After the tick is removed, wash the skin several times with soap and water.
- Avoid using nail polish or petroleum jelly for tick removal. This delays removal of the tick from the skin.
The snake strikes as a defensive action and can leave enough venom to cause illness. To minimize exposure, avoid tall grass areas. If you cannot see your feet as you walk due to high grasses or weeds, kick ahead of your walk and give the snake time to slither away. If you must travel through snake territory, wear long pants, ankle-high boots or snake-proof gaiters.
Sunny spots are favorites for snakes. When hiking or climbing, watch where you place your feet on a path, and check sunny ledges before grabbing during a rock climb to avoid an unwanted encounter with a snake.
Snake bite treatment:
- Keep the victim of snake bite calm, still and quiet. Restrict movement, and keep the affected area at or below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
- Remove any rings or constricting items and clothing, as the affected area may swell.
- Allow the bite to bleed freely for 15 – 30 seconds before cleansing.
- Create a loose splint to help restrict movement of the area.
- Contact medical help as soon as possible by calling 911 or local emergency services.
- Evacuate the victim immediately by hiking to a car, a helicopter, or to medical staff.
- Monitor the person’s vital signs (temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure). Watch for any signs of shock (sweating, clammy skin, or shallow breathing), since the fear of having been bitten is often more dangerous than the bite.
- Attempt to identify the snake or bring in the dead snake (only if you are able to do this safely). Do not waste time hunting for the snake. Also, remember that the nervous system of a snake can cause it to still move (and bite) even after it is dead, so exercise caution if transporting it.
Keep your eyes open and your skin protected from these creatures and have a great summer from St. John Trauma Services.