In what may be a surprising reality to some, many medical emergencies stemming from a visit to the beach may not require any immediate medical treatment. In fact, some of the more common medical hazards on the beaches may easily be dismissed completely if you do not pay attention and know what to look for.
In this article, we will examine the 10 most common medical problems at the beaches in Florida. Some of them will obviously require immediate emergency medical care services, but others are more subtle and may even involve other specialized medical practitioners. Part of the key to staying healthy and getting the medical assistance you need, when you need it, is paying attention to your surroundings as well as your symptoms.
1. Swimming In Polluted Water
The waters of the Everglades and many of the canals and runs through the inland waterways of Florida are filled with pollutants, tannic acid, and a host of toxins that may or may not be noticeable. Even people who are merely fishing along the shores or in a boat can inadvertently ingest sufficient quantities of water to bring about disease and discomfort.
The most common medical problems resulting from polluted waters is some form of gastroenteritis, which should be treated by a medical professional skilled in Gastroenterology. Symptoms may include vomiting and nausea, or little more than minor discomfort. Regardless of the severity however, it is a good idea to have a thorough medical examination and stop a medical inconvenience from becoming a medical emergency.
2. Brain and Flesh Eating Amoebas
Beware of fowleri at the beach … no, not that foul smell from the blacktop, but Naegleria fowleri. The Naegleria fowleri is more commonly known in Florida as “The brain-eating amoeba” and despite the fact that it may sound like a bad b-movie playing at the local drive-in movie theater, it is a very deadly and disturbingly common occurrence in Florida.
The brain-eating amoeba of Florida however, cannot survive in saltwater. This is exceptionally rare but it pays to be informed and to look out for any symptoms, even if you are not actively swimming on a daily basis. While there have been only 145 recorded cases since the 1960s, the severity makes it worth noting and being aware of when you live in Florida.
Symptoms of the brain eating amoeba start with a severe headache, and include fever, nausea, and vomiting. Infection may then progress to a stiff neck, seizures, and ultimately result in a coma. Brain-eating amoeba can cause severe illness up to nine days after exposure. It is generally inhaled through the nose and not known to be transmitted by drinking water even straight from the lakes.
The “Florida Flesh Eating Bacteria” are, as noted, actually bacteria and not amoeba. Have you ever had strep throat? Believe it or not, it is the exact same bacteria that results in Necrotizing fasciitis or the rotting of the flesh. The bacteria is known as Streptococcus pyogenes and risk occurs when the bacteria gets into the bloodstream and infects the fascia, or connective tissue that surrounds nerves, muscles, or the blood vessels. Since 2010, there are an average of about 100 cases per year recorded in the United States, primarily along the East Coast.
Symptoms from the Streptococcus pyogenes infecting the fascia include pain that extends beyond the area of the infected skin. The infection itself will be swollen and red, but the pain will extend beyond that point. The infection tends to spread very fast, making it easy to spot. The patient will then develop a fever, and additional symptoms may include blisters or black spots on the skins, ulcerations, or discoloration of the skin, in addition to symptoms resembling a severely upset stomach.
3. Heat Exhaustion, Heatstroke, and Sunstroke
These three common medical reactions are similar but notably different as well. Heat Exhaustion comes from spending too much time in an enclosed space such as working out of a tractor trailer, or from spending too much time in the sun. Heat Exhaustion is notable as it means that the core temperature of the body has not reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius) or more.
Heatstroke and Sunstroke are where the core body temperature has reached or exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius) and can be very deadly. The only notable difference between heatstroke and sunstroke is the cause, with sunstroke being more common on the Florida beaches. The initial symptoms should be heeded and include nausea, lethargy or weakness, headaches and vomiting.
The primary cause for all of these issues is spending too much time in the sun and getting overheated. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, find a cool spot in the shade or inside to rest. Do not move about too much and drink plenty of liquids. While it may be tempting to grab an ice cold beer or even iced tea, rehydration is best served through tap water or other liquids served at room temperature and the body temperature has been normalized.
4. Skin Cancer
Skin spots and skin cancer are a common occurrence for people who have spent a lifetime in the sun, as well as for people who are not accustomed to spending so much time in the sun and switch to a lifestyle where they are constantly exposed to the UV rays from the sun. These are generally not emergency medical situations, but may require due diligence and potentially even professional medical care.
Some people will always feel the need to play the hero. While drowning is perhaps a bit too obvious an inclusion for this list, there are some considerations that can help you to avoid becoming a victim. A surprisingly large number of people, comparatively speaking at least, will drown while trying to save someone who is drowning. Don’t do it. Simple.
Other common causes include swimming during periods of lethargy or weakness, such as that caused by the recent consumption of corn dogs and cheese fries from that boardwalk cafe, during periods of excessive indigestion, or while trying to reduce the effects of heat exhaustion. A little bit of common sense, and swimming only in areas with lifeguards should greatly reduce the risk of drowning.
Despite some misconceptions to the contrary, you can get sunburned on cloudy days. It is also possible, and disturbingly common in Florida for people to get first, second, and even third-degree burns from sunburn. No matter how tempting it may be, when your friends talk about how bad that sunburn hurts, try not to smack it.
If you are new to the tropics, try to limit your exposure to sunlight to a few minutes until your body grows more accustomed to the large volumes of sun. Consult your family doctor or other healthcare professional in order to determine what your best options are for sunscreen as well. This is another medical emergency that can be easily avoided.
7. Strokes and Heart Attacks
Strokes and heart attacks are not an every day occurrence, but they do happen. In the event you see anyone who is incapacitated on the beaches or anywhere else, do not try to help them unless you are a certified medical professional. Dial 911 and let the emergency responders provide the proper care.
8. Severe Indigestion and Food Poisoning
Yeah, it sounds funny. Right? But food poisoning and even some instances of indigestion can be deadly. Who does not love a beach picnic or a beach barbecue on the weekend? Improperly packed picnic baskets, or eating the crab that you caught and cooked the night before can kill you. While it may sound funny, having to go to the emergency room for a medical emergency that never should have happened is never a laughing matter.
If they symptoms are not severe, hospitalization may not be necessary, but severe symptoms may also be an indication that a checkup or emergency room visit would not be unwarranted either. If you experience indigestion, discomfort, diarrhea or other symptoms, drink fluids to replace your electrolytes, especially anything containing sodium, calcium, or potassium.
9. Jellyfish, Sharks, and Stingrays
Despite popular belief, jellyfish are not what is used to create all those yummy jellies in the stores. It is also never a good idea to try to catch one. Jellyfish and “Men O’War” may look weak and defenseless, but the first time you get stung, if you are lucky, you will learn quickly and know not to make such mistakes ever again.
The jellyfish and some rays have poisoned barbs that can be deadly to humans, and especially to small children. If anyone in your party is stung, call 911 immediately. In the event of a shark attack, the same rules tend to apply, though jellyfish stings are far more common than shark attacks. As for getting stung by Stingrays, Steve Irwin would probably recommend against it if he could.
10. Vehicle Accidents and Trauma
Notice the word used here is vehicle and not car or any other specific vehicle, and includes trauma that is common among surfers being hit by surfboards. If you see a surfer or anyone else rendered unconscious in the water, pull them out of the water only if you can do so safely, without risking increasing their injuries or putting yourself in any danger.
The same is true for any vehicle accidents along the beaches. Dial 911 and get professional medical responders as quickly as possible. People who suffer severe trauma may often go into shock, and even if they are fully conscious, may not fully recognize or understand the extent of their injuries. Never make any assumptions about their injuries or take any risks. Dial 911 and allow the medical professionals to do their job.
Does AHCMD Provide Emergency Care at the Beach?
At AHCMD we pride ourselves on properly training all our staff to handle virtually any medical emergency or for long-term or short-term healthcare. Having offices as close to the beach as we do, we also enjoy spending time at the beach as much as anyone does, but we want to make sure you stay safe, happy and healthy, so you can enjoy the Florida beaches without having to worry about medical emergencies.