Mother nature shows no favorites. Although spring weather doesn’t necessarily bring to mind the types of perils that winter can present (such as avalanches and thin ice), dangers are always lurking that can jeopardize your health and safety.
To ensure that your next expedition doesn’t get derailed, consider these quick tips that will keep you safe.
With April showers comes lightning, unfortunately, and last year, nearly 30 people died from lightning strikes, according to the National Weather Service. Ensure that you don’t suffer the same fate by knowing when the bad weather is coming, and having a plan to avoid the electrical strike. “The most important component of lightning safety is prevention,” says Gates Richards, M.Ed., special program manager with the NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute in Lander, Wyoming. “This involves knowing local weather patterns, anticipating oncoming storms, finding relatively low-risk locations and practicing a lightning drill before a storm.”
If you know a storm is headed your way, evaluate the safe locations that are nearby. “Lower risk locations include low rolling hills,” Richards says. “These would be safer places for campsites.” If you’re caught in a lightning storm, a good rule of thumb is to avoid being, or being near, the tallest object in any given area, Richards says. “In the worst case scenario (being stuck in a lightning storm), you can assume a ‘lightning position,’ ” he says. This means you should insulate yourself from the ground, protect yourself from the weather, and stay small and low. “Disperse a group to minimize the chances of multiple casualties,” he says.
If someone in your group does get hit by lightning, know that the symptoms aren’t as clear-cut as you see in the movies. “Lightning strikes can produce a wide range of injuries, ranging from trauma to neurological problems,” Richards says. “Provide supportive care, clean or splint any injuries, and evacuate anyone involved in a lightning strike. Neurological issues may have delayed onset, so it’s best to evacuate.”
Spring allergies don’t just involve hay fever and runny noses—they can bring on the potentially deadly sting of bees, wasps and other insects that carry Hymenoptera venom, which is an allergy trigger for thousands of people.
Most reactions to bee stings involve local swelling and itching, but for some people, systemic reactions such as anaphylaxis can strike, which could be deadly. If you’re traveling with someone who has a diagnosed Hymenoptera allergy, ensure that an epinephrine prescription is in your carry pack (typically in the form of an Epi-Pen).
Anyone who has ever seen an old cowboy movie knows that the best way to treat a snakebite is to cut the bite, suck out the venom and spit it on the ground, right? Not so fast.
This outdated advice can actually waste precious time that could be spent getting the victim to an emergency care facility.First, know that your chances of dying from a snakebite are not as high as you think.
“It’s incredibly uncommon for people to die from domestic snakebites in the U.S.—fewer than 10 people in any given year,” Richards says. “The majority of poisonous snakes native to our part of North America are pit vipers (rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads).” However, he advises, it’s not important to identify the snake, because anyone bitten by a snake (or any animal) should be evacuated from the backcountry for evaluation.“Roughly one-third of all pit viper bites are ‘dry’ bites that did not include envenomation,” Richards says. “If envenomation occurs, signs and symptoms include pain, swelling, and discoloration beyond the puncture wounds and slowly extending back toward the core.” None of the myths out there (ice, tourniquets, cutting the bite and sucking out the venom, electrotherapy) have any use as field treatments, he says. “Several will make matters worse,” Richards stresses.
The best treatment for a snakebite is to stay calm, leave the snake alone, clean the wound, splint the extremity and evacuate the patient, Richards advises. “If possible, avoid having the patient walk,” he says. “If not possible, walking is okay, but stay calm and recognize that for almost all of the 10,000 or so people who will be bitten by pit vipers this year, wound care will be the bulk of their treatment. Antivenom, if administered, will only happen in a clinical setting.”
Avoid these common first aid myths
- If you’re surprised to read that cutting a snakebite and sucking the venom isn’t ideal for snakebite treatment, then you may also be making other common first aid mistakes that could end up making your condition worse.
- For instance, the Red Cross advises against the common home remedy of butter applied to a burn. Instead, the Red Cross says, “treat a burn with cool water. If the burn is severe and starts to blister, make sure to see a doctor. Keep the affected area clean and loosely covered with a dry, sterile dressing.”
- Likewise, the agency advises, don’t induce vomiting if someone ingests a poison such as a wild mushroom or bad water. Instead, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 for advice.