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Summer Fun - A family plays board games outside in the mountains.

Summer Fun & Safety in Tahoe

There may be no better place on earth than Lake Tahoe – especially in the summer. As proof, every year more than 1.5 million visitors make their way to the South Shore of Lake Tahoe and locals by the thousands take advantage of their superb surroundings. The vast majority of those who enjoy Tahoe return home with only good memories. A few will find they need urgent medical services. Our hope is that while we’d love to meet you, we’d rather have it be a social occasion than during a trip to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department.

I see many common problems in the during the summer months, including:

Slips and falls 
By and large, we see mainly minor injuries. These are usually slips and falls from boating, camping and hiking.  Many dock side injuries can be avoided by taking extra care when entering and exiting boats from the dock.  Get an extra hand from a friend, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been on a boat. 

Bare feet
As simple as it may seem, going bare foot in the campground is risky!  We see many happy campers become less so after they step on a pine cone or other sharp object while not wearing shoes.

Protect your ankles 
Ankle sprains also can be avoided by wearing shoes or boots with proper support when you venture out on the trail to enjoy the “wilder” side of Tahoe.

Sun burns can be particularly uncomfortable and can ruin your vacation.  People forget that at altitude (the lake is at about 6225 feet elevation) the sun’s rays have less atmosphere to go through, and as a result, sun burns happen much more quickly then at sea level.  Proper application of sunscreen, use of broad-rimmed hats and moderating time spent directly in the sun will keep your skin healthy and reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Fun in the water
What would Tahoe be without water sports?  It is truly a water sport paradise. Everyone can enjoy water sports safely if a few preparations are made.  
1.  Wear a coast guard approved life vest.  It’s a simple thing, but if you’re going to be out on any sort of water craft it is required and just plain good sense.  The swimming is fun and the water is refreshing, but extended exposure to Tahoe’s water (such as can happen if you fall into the water from a boat) can result in hypothermia, which makes swimming difficult.  
2. If you are taking up a new sport (like kayaking, paddle boarding, etc.) take a lesson. You’ll be far safer if you understand the basics of the sport..    

I would not deny the beauty and grandeur of Tahoe to anyone, but if you have a medical condition, especially one that involves your lungs or heart, it would be prudent to discuss your trip to Tahoe with your doctor before you visit – be sure to mention the altitude (6,300-feet).  With proper preparation, most people can enjoy a trip to Tahoe. 

Reptiles, arthropods and animals
Despite all these precautions, there is some good news. Rattle snakes and scorpions are essentially non-existent in the Tahoe basin (but do exist on the slopes and valleys outside of the basin) and our bears (black bears) are generally placid animals who typically mind their own business, unless specifically provoked.  Food needs to be carefully stored when backpacking and also at drive-in camp sites (use the provided bear boxes) as the bears are not shy about wandering into campgrounds with hundreds of people in search of food.

Finally, the most common problem that we see at the root of many unfortunate events is alcohol. Boating while intoxicated in particular is dangerous as is operating any vehicle (even bicycles!) while under the influence. Consume alcohol in moderation (especially at high altitude) and do not drink and drive. 

Enjoy Tahoe for all the right reasons and we wish you many happy memories and experiences here. If you find yourself in need of medical care, know that Barton Health, with our fully board certified staffed, 24/7 emergency department and Barton Urgent Care (at Stateline) are committed to providing you and your family excellent care.

In case of emergency, always dial 9-1-1. 
Barton Memorial Hospital Emergency Department: (530) 541-3420
Barton Urgent Care at Stateline: (775) 589-8900

Dr. Warren Withers is a physician with Barton Urgent Care at Stateline Medical Center.