Red, White & Boom Spectacularly!

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.41.16 PMHappy Birthday to The United States of America! We are on countdown to 240 candles of our American Independence Day celebrations  — and to honor our “land of the free and the home of the brave” we will join in festivities and light-up our skies  from sea to shining sea.

As we reflect on our stars and stripes, Fourth of July marks the birth of our nation with the signing of The Declaration of Independence. Although the American Revolutionary War had already begun in 1775, the document was signed in 1776 and set forth ideals of individual liberty in “self-evident truths.”

The Declaration of Independence set the Thirteen Colonies on their path to independence from Great Britain (and our Democracy was born). We respect this is one of our nation’s most cherished symbols of liberty, birthing forth the ideals of our great nation, in freedom. The original draft, authored by 33 year-old Thomas Jefferson was in his words, “an expression of the American mind” – then signed by 56 men representing our 13 original colonies. 

As early as 1777, the first-ever major birthday celebration took place in Philadelphia with a parade, thirteen-shot cannon salute, and fireworks. Since then, fireworks have been a Fourth of July tradition. In fact, The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that over 14,000 professional firework displays illuminate the skies on our country’s birthday.   

All truly amazing and glorious – but I am compelled to add that experts call our Fourth of July the most dangerous American holiday of the year (July 2-7). And this year, the National Safety Council estimated that there would be over 400 deaths and 53,000 injuries in car crashes alone, not including swimming incidents, and fireworks accidents.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Fourth of July Week Safety

Driving. Independence Day has historically been the deadliest day on the road for Americans, according to the Insurance Institute. And this year it is predicted that millions more people will be on our nation’s highways and scenic byways. 

  • Make sure all passengers are buckled correctly, that children are strapped safely in car seats and that pets are being transported the correct and safe way.
  • See what streets in the area you are traveling to are predicted to be the most heavily packed on the 4th and try to avoid them.
  • Pay attention while you are driving (recent research shows increase distraction with others in the vehicle leads to sharp increase in crashes)
  • Make sure to use your roadway manners—being impatient is unsafe
  • Make sure to get enough sleep
  • Recognize and avoid impaired drivers: Do not try and pass them; instead keep a safe following distance from them. If you have a passenger with you, have them report the license plate number to the police.
  • Stay sober. If you were drinking the night before make sure you are 100% sober to drive the day after your Fourth of July festivities. If you are not certain, don’t take a chance.
  • Have a dependable GPS system and maintain an emergency kit in your vehicle

Water safety Spending the day in the water is one of the most peaceful and relaxing activities we can embark on, especially with the warm weather that is characteristic of Our Nation’s birthday. Remain vigilant with a watchful eye:

  • Do not swim alone or allow others to swim alone—this goes for children and adults. Drowning can happen within minutes and unforeseen circumstances can lead to fatal consequences (e.g., undercurrent).
  • When dipping into our oceans, make sure to swim, surf, and play at a lifeguarded beach—and follow all instructions and orders from the lifeguards. 
  • Designate a chaperone to watch the kids when they are in the water. Statistics show that many kids drown when other people are nearby, and we often inaccurately assume that someone else is watching the kids.
  • Swim sober—alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of drowning
  • Diving injuries are responsible for over 25,000 emergency room visits every year! Before diving, inspect the depth to make sure it is deep enough. A rule of thumb is to make sure the bottom of the body of water is double the distance from which you are diving (e.g. 5 feet above the water, should mean at least 10 feet of water). Never, ever dive into shallow water. And if you cannot see the bottom of the body of water, just don’t do it.

Grilling safety

More and more Americans are lighting their grills than ever before. However, anytime we cook with fire, there is a possibility of a burn injury. In addition to following the manufacturer’s instructions when using grills, here are some additional tips:

  • Grills emit carbon monoxide which can be deadly. As a result, they are for outside use only. Never barbecue within a trailer, tent, house, garage, or enclosed area.
  • Always supervise the grill when in use and make sure that everyone—including our loved furry, four-legged pets—stays away from the grill
  • Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches, siding, or anything that could catch on fire.
  • Check gas grill hoses for cracks, holes and leaks—they can result in fires and explosions

Sun protection

  • I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, over and over and over again–skin cancer kills. Every hour one American dies from it. And, too, it is more common than breast and prostate cancer—nearly 5.5 million are diagnosed yearly in the United States! And while we may think “ehhh, one sunburn won’t hurt me,” think again. In a study out of Brown University, Caucasian women who had five or more bad sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 years of age had an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma. Block the harmful ultraviolet radiation by limiting exposure to direct sunlight (especially between the hours of 10 am to 4 pm), wearing and reapplying sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) frequently, and using wide brim hats, sunglasses, and other protective clothing.
  • Avoid heat-related injuries by spending adequate time indoors or in the shade and drinking plenty of fluids. And know that your risk is increased when participating in strenuous activity or sports, if you have a chronic medical condition, and in the elderly and young.
  • Always check all prescription medications you (and those you care for) are taking to assure you will not have a sun-sensitizing drug reaction to the medication

Fireworks safety – Be Aware

  • Always check and obey local laws; if fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
  • Always purchase fireworks from a reliable source and avoid those that are packaged in brown paper—they are made for professional displays and can pose danger.
  • Know your fireworks.  Read the caution label before igniting. Use fireworks as directed on consumer product safety label; never alter products.
  • Fireworks are for outside use only. Additionally, do not use fireworks near buildings, motor vehicles, or trees. 
  • Ensure children are supervised at all times for safety around fireworks and never allow them to play with fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals and cause serious bodily injury
  • Never handle fireworks if you have been drinking alcohol. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
  • Always have water ready if you are shooting fireworks. Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • After fireworks complete their burning (known as spent fireworks), soak them in water from a bucket or hose before placing them in an outdoor trashcan. This can help prevent a trash fire.

Food Safety

Warm weather provides fertile ground for foodborne bacteria to grow rapidly—and it is not limited to mayonnaise and other egg dishes. Let’s not give those pesky germs that opportunity:

  • Keep cold foods stored at 40oF or below with ice coolers, freezing packs, or refrigeration. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that food should not be left out for more than 1 hour when the temperatures go above 90oF (and 2 hours at other times).
  • Keep raw meats away from other items—use separate wrapping and storage quarters; cutting boards and utensils
  • Cook meat and seafood thoroughly
  • Wash your hands. If you do not have access to a sink, ensure that you have an evaporative anti-bacterial gel, soap, or hand-wipes.

And for our furry friends. Hot environments along with loud, crowded fireworks displays are no fun for pets, who can become frightened or disoriented by the sound. Please resist the urge to take them to Independence Day festivities, and opt instead to keep them safe from the noise in a quiet, cool, sheltered and escape-proof area.

Outdoors. If you’ll be hiking or camping in an area where ticks are abundant, wear long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and long pants tucked into socks or boots to protect yourself from tick-borne diseases. For your skin, you can use a tick repellent with no more than 30% DEET according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Products containing DEET should not be used on children less than 2 months of age and should not be applied to the hands or face of young children. Check yourself (and your pets) for ticks at the end of the day.

According to the safety commission reports, all of these are vitally important. Be aware, too, they also report that there is a substantial increase in emergency room visits for bicycle crashes, exercise equipment accidents and basketball injuries.

As we look forward to Fourth of July celebrations with fireworks and great festivities, we must also take appropriate measures to protect ourselves, our family, and friends from serious injuries or death. These extra precautions can make Our Country’s birthday and your times truly spectacular! Cheers!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.