Dodge the Emergency Room this Summer
Northwestern Medicine emergency physician offers quick fixes for common summertime ailments
The city of Chicago comes alive in the summertime. From biking on the scenic lakefront to walking the bustling street fairs, a Chicagoan seems to have infinite activities at their disposal. With so much going on, accidents are bound to happen. To help people get back on their feet as soon as possible, Northwestern Medicine® emergency medicine specialist Rahul Khare, MD, sheds some light on how to handle minor injuries and stay healthy this summer.
“Many people dismiss the initial steps when it comes to treating summertime mishaps, but they make a world of difference,” said Khare, who is an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Doing the little things early can help get you back in action and hopefully allow you to skip a trip to the ER.”
Only one in five people wear sunscreen regularly, even while it should be used every day. When selecting a sunscreen, choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Sunburns are easily avoided by limiting sun exposure, dressing appropriately, and wearing sunscreen daily. It is important to reapply every one to two hours, especially if when swimming or sweating. When sunburn does occur, and skin is red and tender to the touch, apply a topical moisturizing cream or aloe to soothe the burned areas. Over-the-counter pain relievers including aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen also help reduce the discomfort.
Within 24 hours of a suspected sprain, Khare recommends icing the affected area three times a day for about ten minutes each time to bring down the inflammation and ease the pain. To bring the swelling down even more, keep the leg elevated, especially while resting. When not icing, wrap the sprained area with an elastic bandage to redistribute the swelling.
Cuts and Scrapes
When it comes to cuts and scrapes, the first and most important step is to clean the wound. Removing the dirt and bacteria with soap and water lowers the risk of infection. “At the minimum, place the scrape or cut under running water, like a faucet or shower, for at least 5 minutes. This reduces the rate of infection tremendously,” said Khare. While he does recommend covering the wound to protect it from germs, research shows that the use of topical antibacterial ointments does not actually decrease the risk of infection. If the wound does not heal and becomes increasingly painful, red, or swollen, then it is time to see a doctor. “If a cut exposes protruding muscle and is more than a quarter of an inch deep, you should seek medical attention for proper closure which may include stitches or surgical skin glue,” said Khare.
Second-degree burns have a high incidence of infection, so the initial disinfecting is equally as critical. To ease pain, place the burned area under cool water for no more than fifteen minutes. Khare recommends covering the burn with a bandaid or gauze to keep it protected. In this case, topical antibacterial ointments do decrease the rate of infection, so Khare says it is wise to put the ointment on the gauze twice-a-day. If the affected area is greater than 3 inches in diameter or multiple layers of skin have been burnt off, seek medical attention.
For temporary relief, Khare suggests the use of calamine to sooth an insect bite because it is a more natural medication than other over-the-counter drugs. Ice can also bring down the swelling and numb the skin. An oral antihistamine is a great option for relief from bug bites, as long as one knows the side-effects include drowsiness. Khare cautions that hydrocortisone cream, while highly marketed, is often overlooked as a steroid that can give rise to negative side effects if used on too much skin or for too many days.
“While there are many ways to care for minor injuries and ailments at home, sometimes medical attention is necessary,” said Khare. “Anytime that pain persists for more than a few days or your condition doesn’t start to improve, it’s important to see a doctor.”
Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.
To find a physician at Northwestern Memorial, call 312-926-0779.