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Summer injuries and illnesses: ER or urgent care?

From heat illnesses to tick bites — knowing whether to go to the emergency room or urgent care could save you time and money this summer.

June 13, 2022

School is out, pools are open and music festivals are in full swing. While you’re packing for vacations and staycations, be sure to add summer safety to your checklists. But even with stocked first aid kits and sunscreen that has highest SPF you can find, injuries and illnesses happen.

When you have a biking accident or you stay too long out in the sun, will a trip to the neighborhood urgent care clinic suffice? Or is it serious enough to warrant a visit to the emergency room? We’re breaking down the most common summer ailments and outlining guidelines for which is best: urgent care or ER?

Heat illnesses and dehydration

When temperatures rise, our bodies do their best to keep us cool by producing more sweat. The result? Our bodies are working in overdrive, and more sweat means we’re losing more water. If we don’t keep ourselves cool and hydrated, we can experience severe heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke and heat exhaustion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) article, "Heat Stress — Heat Related Illness."

Urgent Care or ER?

Urgent care clinics treat dehydration and most heat illness symptoms, like muscle cramps and dizziness.

However, heatstroke symptoms (confusion, loss of consciousness or a temperature over 100) should be escalated to the nearest emergency room.

Preventative care

  • Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after heat exposure.
  • Take refuge in the shade often.
  • Use cold compresses and wet towels to keep body temperature low.
  • Remember that UV rays are most dangerous between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as well as near water and sand, asthe rays reflect from the ground.

Skin ailments and bug bites

As we spend more time outdoors, we’re often left exposed to the elements. Sunburns, poison ivy and bug bites aren’t just annoying, they can be dangerous to your overall health. Learn more about bug bites in the CDC article, "Avoid bug bites."

Urgent Care or ER?

If you are having an extreme allergic reaction or experiencing changes in cognitive function due to a bee sting, bug bite or skin rash, head straight to the ER.

An urgent care clinic treats less severe symptoms, such as swelling, rashes and aching joints.

Preventative care

  • Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and reapply every two hours.
  • Wear gear to protect you from the sun, like sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.
  • When walking through wooded areas, be sure to cover up exposed skin to protect from poison ivy, poison oak and sumac.
  • Use insect repellents that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and contains one of the following active ingredients.
    • 20 to 30 percent DEET
    • Picaridin
    • IR3535
    • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
    • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
    • 2-undecanone

Water sports and swimming

With the heat of long summer days comes the water activities we partake in to keep ourselves cool. Be it swimming, water skiing, tubing or boogie boarding, it’s imperative to stay alert and be proactive to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved ones.

Urgent Care or ER?

If someone is experiencing pain directly related to an injury — like a sprain, simple break or fall — those injuries can be diagnosed and treated at an urgent care. Urgent cares also treat symptoms of dehydration, minor cuts and burns, diarrhea and vomiting.

The ER is best for any severe trauma, especially relating to the head or spine. Any uncontrollable bleeding, multiple broken bones, trouble breathing, chest pain or heart attack symptoms should always be escalated to an emergency department.

Preventative care

  • Don’t swim alone. Ensure someone else is nearby in the event of trouble.
  • When on the water, always wear a personal floatation device, and ensure it fits!
  • Stay hydrated, even if you’re not thirsty.
  • If a child is in the water, always keep eyes on them. Better yet, designate an adult to keep watch to ensure nothing is missed.
  • The CDC article, "Swimming-related Illnesses, " recommends to keep water out of your mouth while swimming and dry your ears out after you’re done, 
  • If engaging in a more athletic activity, ensure you’re stretched and warmed up to prevent injury.
  • If you choose to consume alcohol while around water, be smart. Do not drink and boat, and be aware of how the sun and water might influence your intoxication levels.

Bike and scooter injuries

Nice weather also means bike and scooter rides through parks and increased commuting on wheels. While biking can be joint-friendly cardio and an efficient way to get around, let’s do so safely. According to the CDC article, "Emergency Department Visits for Bicycle-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries Among Children and Adults — United States, 2009–2018," during 2009–2018, an estimated 596,972 emergency department visits for bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occurred in the United States. As we zoom off on bikes and scooters, be sure to take the proper precautions.

Urgent Care or ER?

Urgent cares are a great resource for many injuries pertaining to bikes and scooters. If a cut or wound needs stitches or if there is a simple (non-protruding) bone break, urgent care is the place to go.

Head straight to an emergency room if someone is experiencing any major breaks or eye injuries. The ER is also necessary for major head-related injuries from a fall. Mental status changes, loss of consciousness and difficulty with balance are all signs of an emergency medical situation.

Preventative care

  • Ensure helmets are well maintained, age appropriate and worn consistently. Learn more safety tips with the CDC Bike Helmet Fact Sheet.
  • Avoid excessive speeds.
  • Watch for hazards in the road and on trails.
  • Put the electronics away — distracted biking is a no-go!

Soaking up the sun, safely

We all want a summer of fun with no doctor office visits. But when accidents happen, knowing whether to visit the ER or an urgent care clinic can potentially save you time and money. At TriStar Health, both our urgent cares and emergency rooms are staffed with trained medical professionals and top-tier equipment to help get you back to enjoying your day. And remember — if your urgent care provider decides you require a higher level of care than they can offer, they will immediately direct you to an ER.

June 13, 2022

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