Grill, Drive, Play: A Doctor's Memorial Day Safety Tips

After months of frigid temps, dodging rainstorms and wrapped in warm blankets, Memorial Day is the first holiday to celebrate the start of warmer weather. The sun is out. Sunglasses are on. Sweat is glistening. Finally, there's hope that summer is on the way.

Most Memorial Day celebrations are outside in the heat, gathering with friends or family over food, or consuming alcoholic beverages. Yet, even in May's typical 70- to 80-degree weather, being healthy and preventing illness should be on the forefront of the brain.

Please pass the potato salad… with a side of food poisoning
The lack of refrigeration at barbecue lunches invites bacteria to join the party. The biggest culprits are dishes made with mayonnaise, such as potato salad or coleslaw. Not fully cooking meat on the grille and accidentally touching cooked food with the raw meat utensils are also setups for food poisoning.

Food poisoning symptoms are not subtle. The abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting and diarrhea often hits suddenly, after two to six hours of eating the offending food. Most times, it has to simply runs its course. But, remember to stay hydrated and avoid milk or dairy until the diarrhea stops.

Pregnant women, children, the elderly and those with weak immune systems have to be especially careful.

In order to prevent infection, cook meat until fully done. Keep raw food far away from cooked food. And, keep the cold items in a good quality cooler with lots of ice. Maintain the cooler as close to 40 degrees Fahrenheit as possible.

Don't shrivel up
During hot weather months, especially when exercising, make it a point to drink more fluids. Waiting until thirst sets in is not always a reliable judge of dehydration, especially in older adults. Many people are already dehydrated long before feeling thirsty. The best judge of hydration is the color of urine. A well-hydrated person's urine is clear or pale yellow. Anything darker, and it's time to drink up.

Children and elderly adults are most sensitive to severe dehydration. But, regular, healthy adults are still 60 percent water. Even a small amount of dehydration can keep the body from working optimally. Women are suggested to drink eight glasses a day of fluids and men, 12 cups.

Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages -- such as coffee, green tea and soda -- actually dehydrates even more because the person loses fluids by urinating. So when drinking caffeinated liquids, increase fluid intake to make up for what's lost.

Running out of steam
Heat illnesses usually happen from staying in the heat too long. Sweating is the body's way of releasing internal heat, but sometimes sweating alone can't keep up with the body's rising temperature. Horsing around or exercising too much in hot weather increases the risk of dehydration. Young children, older adults and being overweight adds to that risk.

Heat exhaustion is characterized by profuse sweating, lightheadedness, nausea, headache and vomiting. Muscle cramps may occur and even precede heat exhaustion. Immediate treatment should involve getting out of the heat, sitting in front of a fan or using cold water and ice to get cool.

If not, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is life-threatening. The dizziness and lightheadedness worsens, the person becomes confused, has seizures or can fall into a coma. The person is no longer sweating and the pulse is fast and weak. People with heat stroke need to be immediately cooled and brought to a hospital.

Alcohol and energy drinks make heat exhaustion and stroke more likely due to the dehydration. Also, ingredients in energy drinks -- especially caffeine -- can alone raise the body's temperature in hot weather.

Poisoned by a good time
Drinking many alcoholic beverages back-to-back -- typically five or more -- over a short period of time can cause alcohol poisoning. When the blood's level of alcohol increases to dangerous levels, the person can become unconscious and breathing can slow down, decreasing oxygen to the brain and body. If the person vomits while unconscious, they can choke to death on their vomit. If any of these symptoms occur after someone drinks alcohol, get them to medical attention immediately.

And driving this weekend? Remain sober. Nearly half of motor vehicle accidents involve alcohol. And, that number goes up around holidays and proms, making Memorial Day weekend a prime danger.


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