The Texas Panhandle Poison Center Provides Safety Guidelines for Summer

TPPC educators advise on spiders, snakes and pool chemicals

Pool chemicals and a net sit next to a swimming pool.

Mishandling pool chemicals can result in serious injuries, such as chemical burns, respiratory issues and even poisoning.

Female TTUHSC pharmacist smiles.

Jeanie Shawhart, Pharm.D.

As summer approaches and outdoor activities increase, it is essential to stay informed about the potential risks and safety reminders related to common seasonal concerns. The Texas Panhandle Poison Center (TPPC) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy provided safety guidelines on potential hazards, such as snakes and spiders, particularly those found in the Texas Panhandle, as well as the safe handling of pool chemicals.

“Understanding the behavior of local wildlife and the proper use of pool maintenance products can significantly reduce the likelihood of accidents and ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for everyone,” Jeanie Shawhart, Pharm.D., TPPC managing director and assistant professor, said.

Spiders

Female TTUHSC educator smiles.

Ronica Farrar

Small and mostly unseen, most spiders are harmless to humans. However, some species possess venom which can be dangerous. Black widows and brown recluses use their toxins primarily to subdue prey. The venom of a black widow contains neurotoxins which cause severe pain and muscle cramps. The brown recluse's venom contains enzymes which can lead to tissue damage. Despite their bite, spider venom is rarely fatal to humans, and most can be effectively treated with medical care.

“For brown recluse envenomation or bites, only about 10% produce tissue damage. Of that 10%, most tissue damage is relatively minor and doesn’t produce the horrible wounds we see on the internet. But there are rare cases that can cause significant tissue damage and possible organ damage, so it’s recommended to always call the poison center for assistance. In the other 90% of bites, no symptoms or only minor local pain at the bite site are experienced,” Ronica Farrar, an educator for TPPC said.

If a person is bitten, follow these steps:

  • Stay calm. Identify the type of spider if it is possible to do so safely. Identification will aid in medical treatment.
  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.
  • Apply a cloth dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the bite area to reduce swelling.
  • Elevate the bite area if possible.
  • Do not attempt to remove venom.
  • Call 1-800-222-1222 and if needed, immediately seek professional medical attention.

Snakes

The Texas Panhandle is home to a variety of snake species, including several which are venomous. Most snakes in Texas are nonvenomous and pose no threat to humans. However, it is important to treat all snakes with caution unless you are certain of their species. Among the most notable are copperheads, water moccasins or cottonmouths, coral snakes and rattlesnakes. Understanding their behavior and habitat preferences can reduce the risk of encounters, and awareness of first aid measures can mitigate the impact of bites.

TPPC recommends these guidelines to prevent snake bites:

  • Avoid places where snakes may live, including tall grass or brush, rocky areas, fallen logs, bluffs, swamps, marshes, leaves and deep holes in the ground.
  • Never handle a snake, even if you think it is dead. Recently killed snakes may still bite by reflex.
  • If you are planning to spend time in a snake-prone area, it’s best not to go alone in case you are bitten by a snake or have another emergency. If you must go alone, make sure you bring a fully-charged mobile phone and stay wherever your phone gets a signal.
  • When moving through tall grass or weeds, poke at the ground in front of you with a long stick to scare away snakes.
  • Shine a flashlight on your path when walking outside at night.
  • Wear long pants and sturdy closed-toe shoes when spending time outdoors.

If bitten, the TPPC advises the following:

  • Call 1-800-222-1222. If the person who was bitten is having trouble breathing or losing consciousness, call 911 immediately.
  • Keep still and calm.
  • Remove all jewelry and tight clothing.
  • Keep the part of the body that was bitten straight and at heart level unless told otherwise by the specialist at the TPPC.
  • Wash the bite with soap and water and cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing, if available, and if doing so does not cause delay.
  • Do not attempt to suck out venom; doing so can cause further harm.
     

Pool Chemicals

Pool chemicals, including chlorine and bromine, are essential for maintaining clean and safe swimming environments by effectively killing harmful bacteria and algae. However, these chemicals must be handled with care to ensure safety. Mishandling these chemicals can result in serious injuries, such as chemical burns, respiratory issues, and even poisoning. Proper handling ensures the safety of both the person handling the chemicals and anyone using the pool. Proper storage in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and out of reach of children is crucial. 

When using pool chemicals, follow the manufacturer's instructions and wear protective gear such as gloves and goggles to prevent skin and eye irritation. Avoid mixing different chemicals, which can lead to dangerous reactions, including toxic fumes or explosions. Regularly checking chemical levels and ensuring proper ventilation in storage areas further enhances safety. By adhering to these safety guidelines, the risks associated with pool chemicals can be minimized, allowing for a healthy and enjoyable swimming experience.

When handling pool chemicals, TPPC recommends wearing safety goggles to protect the eyes from splashes, chemical-resistant gloves to prevent skin contact, long-sleeved clothing to minimize skin exposure and a mask or respirator if working in an area with poor ventilation or with flammable chemicals.

If pool chemicals are mixed, TPPC recommends these steps: 

  • Evacuate the area to avoid inhaling any fumes.
  • Ventilate the area if possible.
  • Avoid touching or handling the chemicals any further.
  • Contact emergency services for assistance.

Always call the TPPC, at 1-800-222-1222, if someone may have swallowed, touched, or breathed a harmful substance. A trained health care provider will tell you exactly what to do. Callers can also call with non-emergency questions. Calls are free and confidential.

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