DIY Tips for Summer Ailments

Northwestern Medicine
Health and Wellness July 10, 2012
Chicago summers are full of endless options for fun. From street fest to the sandy beaches, most people in the city seem to find their way outdoors this time of year. With so much activity also comes an increase in injuries making it a busy time for us in the emergency department. The good news is that many ailments that plague people in the summer can be handled at home without a trip to the ER. Taking just a few small steps can get you back in action quickly and hopefully allow you to skip a trip to see me:


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, ice 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 minimum, place the scrape or cut under running water, like a faucet or shower, for at least five minutes. This reduces the rate of infection tremendously. Cover 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.       

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.  Cover the burn with a bandage or gauze to keep it protected. In this case, topical antibacterial ointments do decrease the rate of infection, so 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. 

Bug Bites
For temporary relief, try 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. Be cautious when using 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. 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.
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