You’ve been planning your trip for weeks, maybe even months, and you can’t wait to get away from it all. You’re going to leave the hustle and bustle of life behind and take some time to unwind and return to your roots. Aaahhh, the great outdoors! It doesn’t get any more peaceful than this! But before you hitch up the RV and wave goodbye to the neighbors, ask yourself this: Am I prepared for an illness or injury if one occurs? Do I know how to treat common camping injuries, like poison ivy, a sprained ankle, or hypothermia? Chances are, in your lifetime of camping, you’ll be faced with some type of camping injury. And when you are, how prepared you are for it will make all the difference in whether you can carry on and keep camping or need to pack things up and head home.
For advice on common camping injuries and how to treat them, read on.
Skin ailments (poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac)
You know what they say: Leaves of three, let it be! Berries of white, poisonous sight! Hairy vine, no friend of mine! Take these rhymes to heart when you’re out in nature because they might just save you from a miserable bout of the itchies from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. If you do happen to brush up against one of these poisonous plants, do this:
- Rinse the affected area with warm, soapy water.
- If possible, wash your clothes that came into contact with the plant (or just throw them away).
- DO NOT ITCH! This will take an enormous amount of willpower, but itching will only make the infected area worse and could cause an infection.
- Apply calamine or hydrocortisone cream/lotion to the area.
- Apply a cool compress to the area.
- Take an antihistamine pill to help with the itching, but never rub it on your skin.
Yuck! No one wants to think of becoming a tick’s next meal or being eaten alive by mosquitos all day. If you wanted to donate blood you would’ve gone to the local blood bank, not to your favorite campground. But unfortunately nature is filled with all sorts of nasty bugs (and some snakes!) that can make your time in the great outdoors downright miserable. So when (not if) you get nibbled on, stung, or bitten by some of nature’s tiniest creatures, do the following:
- Mosquitos, black flies, bees, and other insects: Most bites/stings will simply heal on their own, but in the meantime you will endure pain and itching from the bite/sting. If stung by a bee, remove the stinger ASAP if it was left in your skin. For relief, apply an ice pack or a cool, wet cloth to the bite for about 15 minutes. Take an antihistamine by mouth, such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton, to reduce swelling, itching, and redness, or apply 1% hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion to the area.
- Spiders: If you think you’ve been bitten by a Black Widow or Brown Recluse spider that causes a toxic reaction, seek immediate medical attention. Otherwise, to alleviate pain and swelling from a non-toxic spider bite, apply an ice cube or cold cloth, calamine/hydrocortisone lotion, or a baking soda paste to the affected area. Take an aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to lessen the pain.
- Ticks: To remove a tick, grab it gently with tweezers near its head and pull gently and steadily. The goal is to keep its head attached to its body when you pull it out. Or you could try gently rubbing clockwise around where the tick is embedded with your fingertip. This motion seems to make the tick dizzy and it often releases on its own. If a rash develops from the bite, consult a doctor.
- Snakes: Call for emergency responders or shout for help right away after being bitten. Remain calm. Try to get a good look at the snake (without putting yourself in harm’s way) so you can describe it to the medical responders. Keep the bitten area below the level of your heart. Create a splint for the area if possible. Also remove any jewelry or clothing that could become too tight if the area swells up. Clean the bite with a clean, wet cloth, but do not flush it with water. Wait for help. Make sure you are clear of snakes and another possible bite.
Clean a wound with water. Use sterilized tweezers to remove any dirt or debris after you’ve cleaned it. Once dry, apply antibiotic ointment and cover it with a clean bandage. If you get a burn, hold it under cool running water, soak it in cool water, or apply a cool cloth to it. Clean the area with mild soapy water. Cover the burn with antibiotic ointment and a bandage. If a blister develops from the burn, do not puncture it. Let it heal on its own. Take an ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen to lessen the pain of a wound or burn.
To treat a sprain, think RICE. This stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Rest the affected area, apply an ice pack/compress for 15-20 minutes at a time, compress the area with an elastic bandage to keep the swelling down, and elevate it above your heart level. For a broken bone, call 911 immediately or seek medical attention. Then stabilize the area with padding. Ice it and elevate it as well. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the pain.
Weather-related illnesses (dehydration, heat stroke/exhaustion, hypothermia)
Whether camping in a hot, desert-y climate or 4000’ up in the Adirondacks, extreme weather conditions can be a part of camping. If you are suffering from dehydration, you need fluids immediately. You can do this by sipping small amounts of water, drinking a sports drink (Gatorade) or replacement drink (Pedialyte), or sucking on a juice popsicle or ice chips. Warning signs are ample, including confusion, dry mouth, swollen tongue, dizziness, and more. Heat exhaustion is marked by nausea, dizziness, headaches, cramps, and more. Treat it immediately so that it doesn’t progress into heat stroke which is a serious medical condition. Someone with heat exhaustion needs to drink plenty of fluids, be immersed into cool water (bath, stream, etc.), and covered with cool compresses. Hypothermia can occur when camping in the mountains and is very serious. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, blue-gray or pale skin, poor judgment, unsteadiness, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, and more. First and foremost, get the affected person out of the cold and into a warm environment (RV, tent, warm sleeping bag, etc.). Cover the person in warm blankets and hot water bottles. For moderate to severe hypothermia, seek medical attention immediately.
For more information on how to avoid some of the more common camping injuries, check out our post on RV safety tips! Stay safe out there friends!