Healthy Life

Sunshine, swimming and braais are all part of summer, but each has its own set of health risks.

Dr Jess Morris, a GP with a special interest in emergency medicine at Mediclinic Morningside Emergency Centre, has expert advice for summer safety.

Sunburn and heatstroke 

Prevention is the best treatment, so apply high factor sunscreen regularly (even in overcast conditions) and seek shade when the sun is highest. If you do get burned, apply after-sun lotion and drink more fluids, but see a healthcare professional if you have burns over a large area or severe blistering. 

Don’t let heat exposure lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke typically results after long exposure to extreme heat, or physical activity in these conditions. Heat stroke can be life threatening if not treated timeously. Avoid hot conditions as far as possible and keep hydrated. If you’ve overdone it in the sun, treatment includes cooling down and upping your fluid intake.

Pool safety

Never take your eyes off children when they’re playing near or in water. Your pool should also have a childproof fence, as well as a net or covering, to prevent accidental falls. Don’t allow diving in the shallow end, running around the pool, and swimming during lightning storms. Never drink alcohol shortly before or while swimming.

If a child or adult drowns, remove them from the water. Establish whether there are signs of life and commence CPR as soon as you are on safe ground, and call ER24 on 084 124 for real help, real fast. In the event of an open water drowning, it’s better to approach a swimmer in trouble from behind so that they can keep the shoreline in sight, and you can propel them forward as you move towards the shoreline.

Deal with stings safely

At the beach, the biggest health risks are jellyfish and blue bottle stings. They secrete a protein-based venom from microscopic tentacles called nematocysts. Both are treated in the same way:

  • First, sit down.
  • Taking care not to rub the area, rinse it with sea water and remove any visible tentacles with a tweezer.
  • To relieve pain, you can give pain medication, e.g., paracetamol, ice the area and submerge it in hot (not boiling) water.
  • Local irritation can be managed with topical creams.
  • The nematocysts may be deactivated by several different remedies, e.g., vinegar, dilute acetic acid, alcohol, or even urine. 

Most stings can be managed with first aid and pain management. Contact a healthcare professional if the pain and irritation continue. If you experience stomach ache, nausea and vomiting, headaches, muscle pain and difficulty breathing after a jellyfish sting, go to your closest Mediclinic Emergency Centre for treatment.

Bee and wasp stings are also common in summer. Only bees leave a stinger behind. Avoid squeezing stings as this will release the venom. Rather, try to remove the sting with your fingernail or a credit card. Apply ice immediately. Remember to keep your EpiPen on hand if you’re allergic. If you experience breathing difficulties, hives or a swollen tongue and body, visit your Emergency Centre immediately. Consult a healthcare professional if the site swells significantly. In case of wasp stings, it’s important to visit your nearest Mediclinic Emergency Centre if you receive multiple stings, which is common.

Burn treatment

A rogue hot coal from a braai or fire can cause burns. First, remove any smouldering clothing. Rinse the area with cold running tap water for 5 – 10 minutes and apply a non-occlusive dressing, e.g., Burnshield, as soon as possible. If the burn is large, or located on an area like your hands, feet, face, or joints, consult a doctor. If the victim is a child, take them to the closest Mediclinic Emergency Centre immediately.

What should I keep in my summer first aid kit?

  • Plasters of various sizes
  • Gauze and elastic adhesive bandage
  • Triangular bandage
  • Crepe bandages
  • Disposable medical gloves (more than one pair)
  • Tweezers and scissors
  • Wood/plastic splint
  • Burn dressing
  • Antihistamine tablets and/or cream
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Painkillers
  • EpiPen (essential if anyone in the family has serious allergies)
  • Disinfectant
  • Anti-inflammatory cream
  • Thermometer

Oral medication, e.g., anti-nausea tablets; analgesics (painkillers); anti-inflammatory tablets; antihistamines; flu medication; antispasmodic (for stomach cramps); anti-diarrhea; electrolytes for dehydration.