Unintentional injuries are the 3rd leading cause of death among African-Americans, behind heart disease and cancer. They are the leading cause of death for Black women less than 35 years of age. Among black men, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for those less than 15 years of age, and is only second to homicide as the leading cause of death for black men 15-to-35. The common unintentional injuries include poisoning, motor vehicle accidents, drowning, fires and burns.
Motor vehicle accidents (MVA) are one of the most common causes of unintentional injury. However, wearing seatbelts can greatly reduce injuries. One of the most important safety measures is to make sure that all passengers (including those who are pregnant) are always wearing seat belts and children are seated in appropriate car seats. Distracted and impaired driving is also responsible for many MVA injuries. Nearly one-third of all traffic related deaths in the United States involve alcohol-impaired driving crashes. Medications can also impair driving as they slow reaction times. Texting or talking on the phone can impair driving just as much as being drunk. If you drink alcohol or are impaired in another way, either do not drive or consider rideshare programs such as Lyft or SafeRide services. These are nationwide programs created by The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Find one in your area, and save the number on your cell phone.
Summer is also the perfect time to ride bicycles and play outside with skateboards. Always wear a helmet when riding bicycles and skateboards, even for short distances. When buying a helmet, it is important to purchase one that meets the Consumer Product Safety Commission safety standard. Proper fitting of a helmet involves a helmet covering the forehead not tipped backwards or forwards and it should fit snug. Using caution or avoid riding in or near moving traffic is also important.
As temperatures increase in the summer months, there is also an increase in water activities. In the United States, there are nearly 10 deaths per day related to unintentional drowning. More than 1-in-5 of drowning victims are children under 14. For every child who dies from drowning, there are nearly 5 who need emergency care or hospitalization. These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities. Most incidents happen when a child falls into a pool or is left alone in a bathtub. It is important to never leave a child unattended in a bathtub or pool. Enrolling in age appropriate swimming lessons for children and adults, while not “drown proof”, is an important water safety skills.
Heat related illness is another summer danger. It can range from muscle cramps to heat exhaustion and in very severe cases heat stroke. A few of the signs of heat exhaustion can include feeling weak or tired, headaches, nausea and vomiting, or increased body temperature. In more severe cases, an individual may become confused, faint or have seizures. In these situations, call 911. One of the most important measures to prevent heat related illness is to stay well hydrated. While the recommended amount of water is 8 glasses of water per day, when exercising or on hot days, much more fluid intake is needed. Avoid strenuous exercise on hot days, and exercise during cooler times of the day and consider walking at an indoor mall or museum. It is also important to never leave a child or pet in a car as temperatures can surpass 100 degrees within minutes.
Fires also pose another important safety threat. Fourth of July is one of the biggest summer events, but it also brings an increase in injuries. Nearly 11,000 people nationwide are treated for fireworks-related injuries in the emergency room, in the days around the July 4th holiday. Enjoy the fireworks and save money by attending a city sponsored fireworks show. If using fireworks at home, never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks. Even sparklers can cause injuries as they burn at temperatures near 2000 degrees. Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy in case of fire. Inside the home, installing smoke alarms and keeping poisonous substances, such as cleaning supplies out of reach of children can also help prevent injuries.
Poisoning is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury death. Drugs, both prescription and illicit, with opioid pain medications being the most common, are responsible for the vast majority of poisoning deaths and hospitalizations. If you need chronic opioid pain or other anxiety medications, talk to your doctor about safe use and other options.
Through diligence and a few simple safety measures, we can decrease injuries and death.