How to Stay Out of the ER This Fourth of July

fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a time to spend grilling hot dogs, eating popsicles and celebrating with family and friends. The last thing you want to do is end up in the emergency room. Keep yourself and your family safe and healthy this holiday—and all summer long—by following a few simple guidelines.

Sun safety

The sun can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, and too much exposure to the sun can cause wrinkles, age spots, sunburn and skin cancer. The best way to reduce your risk of skin damage is by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and reapplying it every two hours or after swimming, sweating or toweling off.

“The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM,” said Stephanie C. Okorie, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Penn Highlands Family Medicine in Rostraver Township, Pa. “We recommend staying in the shade as much as possible during these hours. If you will be in a spot without shade, bring a beach umbrella or wear protective clothing. And remember that water and sand reflect sunrays, which can increase the chance of sunburn.”

Water safety

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years of age, and unlike what you may see in movies or on TV, drowning can happen in seconds and is often silent. Many times, those in danger are unable to shout or flail their arms.

The best way to prevent drowning is by supervising children closely. Designate an adult to supervise children in the pool or water area, particularly when swimming in a location where there is no lifeguard on duty. Removing pool toys and rafts when not in use can deter children from entering the pool area when unsupervised. And be sure to always opt for a life jacket instead of inflatable swimming aids like water wings.

Firework safety

In 2022, 10,200 people were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to fireworks, with the majority of injuries occurring near the Fourth of July holiday. You should never allow children to play with fireworks, including sparklers. If you are an adult and will be handling fireworks, keep a bucket of water or hose nearby. Light fireworks one at a time and then back away quickly. Do not try to relight or pick up fireworks that have not fully ignited. Let them sit for 10 minutes and then put them in a bucket of water. At the end of the celebration, soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.

Insect safety

You can take steps to prevent bug bites this summer by using an insect repellent with one of these EPA-approved active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. Remember to apply insect repellent after sunscreen. You can also dress your children in clothing that covers the arms and legs, and cover strollers with mosquito netting.

Most mild reactions to a bite or sting can be treated at home. Move to a safe area to avoid additional bites and then remove any stingers that may still be in your skin. Gently wash the area with mild soap and water. If the bite occurs on an arm or leg, elevate it to reduce swelling. An ice pack applied to the affected area for 15 minutes every hour can also help itching as well as reducing swelling.

For bee stings and other bites that are painful, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For bites that itch, apply an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone, or take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine. Be sure to follow the directions on the label for any medication you take.

“If you experience even one or two symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as trouble breathing, nausea, vomiting, swelling, dizziness, fainting, unconsciousness, or a weak or rapid pulse, seek immediate medical attention,” said Dr. Okorie.

If you have a sunburn, bite or injury that is non-life threatening but requires medical attention, contact your family practice physician. If you do not have a family practice physician, Penn Highlands Healthcare staffs walk-in clinics throughout Pennsylvania that are perfect when you do not have a primary care physician or cannot get scheduled to see one. To find a provider near you, visit