17 Disturbing Health Dangers Lurking in Your Backyard
Bugs and plants and pools, oh my!
While even something as simple as a trip to the grocery store can seem like a dangerous activity during the coronavirus pandemic, there are countless ways you could be putting your wellbeing at risk without even realizing it. In fact, there are numerous sources of potential peril far closer to home than you think—many of these dangers are right in your backyard.
From poisonous plants to bugs whose bites can land you in the hospital, read on to discover the biggest sources of danger lurking on your property. And if you want to keep yourself safe, practice these 15 Things You Need to Do Every Time You Leave Your Home, According to the CDC.
While mosquito bites are a rite of passage in the summer, that doesn't mean every bite is necessarily benign. "Mosquitoes are common throughout the U.S. and can carry and spread a wide variety of diseases to humans and animals," says Steve Durham, a certified entomologist and president of EnviroCon Termite & Pest in Texas, who notes that mosquitoes can transmit Zika, West Nile Virus, dengue, malaria, and chikungunya.
Those deer in your yard may be beautiful, but they can carry some seriously dangerous diseases if they're harboring ticks. Unfortunately, it's rather likely that they are harboring disease-carrying ticks, seeing as rates of tick-borne diseases in the United States more than doubled between 2004 and 2016.
While ticks can harbor numerous diseases, the most common is Lyme disease, which is primarily diagnosed in the Northeast and Midwest, according to David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "Be on the lookout for a rash that looks like a bullseye," Cutler advises. "Your primary care doctor can treat it with antibiotics, but if left untreated for years it can lead to chronic fatigue, aches/pains in your joints, and more serious complications." And if you've been bitten by a tick, make sure you know these 20 Surprising Symptoms of Lyme Disease You Can't Afford to Ignore.
If you're thinking of attempting to take down a wasp's nest yourself, you might want to reconsider. "The biggest danger in a person's backyard [is] wasps," says entomologist John Melchior, founder of Kapture Pest Control in Northern New Jersey. "They are the only cause for which we've had to take technicians to the hospital." And for more timely stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Black Widow Spiders
Black widow spiders are every bit as scary as their name suggests. According to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences's Department of Entomology, these spiders—found worldwide in warm climates—can cause a spike in blood pressure, muscle pain, and difficulty breathing simply by biting you.
Brown Recluse Spiders
While you might not even notice a brown recluse spider's bite initially, the side effects it causes later on certainly won't fly under the radar. According to the National Capital Poison Control, an untreated brown recluse spider bite can cause tissue death and crater-like scars at the wound site that remain even after your body has healed. And for more creepy-crawlies to steer clear of, check out The 50 Most Dangerous Bugs in America.
Those puddles in your yard may be more dangerous than you ever imagined. "[Standing water] attracts mosquitos [and] puts you at risk for mosquito-borne illness," including West Nile Virus, says Kirsten Bechtel, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric emergency medicine doctor and trauma prevention expert.
Though you may love the way your backyard pond looks, there could be serious health hazards lurking in that water. "Urban pollution can cause dangerous water quality conditions to develop naturally in lakes and ponds right in your backyard," says biologist Erin Stewart of Solitude Lake Management in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Stewart explains that cyanobacteria, AKA blue-green algae, can produce harmful toxins that can cause symptoms like liver damage, headaches, muscle pain, and skin irritation, just to name a few.
After birth defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that drowning is the number one cause of deaths in children between the ages of 1 and 4.
So, what can you do to keep your kids safe when they're swimming in your pool? "Put a gate on all four sides so younger children can't fall into it when adults aren't watching," says Bechtel. In addition to making sure your kids understand water safety and have taken swim lessons, "Don't keep floats in the pool as they can attract toddlers who are interested in their bright colors, and can obscure a toddler who may have fallen into the pool," she cautions.
Sure, they're fun, but trampolines pose a greater risk to your health than you could ever imagine. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), there were more than 123,029 trampoline-related injuries in the United States in 2019 alone.
"There are many dangers to trampolines," says Danelle Fisher, MD, vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, including running into other jumpers, falling onto the trampoline's springs, or falling off the trampoline entirely. "These injuries—like broken bones, sprains, concussions, and many bruises—occur at a high velocity due to the force of the bounce," explains Fisher.
Jungle gyms and other playground equipment are great when your kids need to expend some energy. However, you need to be extra careful about supervising your children when they're playing outside on these contraptions. NEISS's data revealed that there were more than 222,.527 playground equipment-related injuries in the U.S. in 2019 alone.
One of the biggest dangers in your backyard is, ironically enough, the very thing you use to keep it livable: the lawn mower. According to the NEISS report, lawn mowers are responsible for 77.,244 injuries in the United States each year, so be careful whenever it's time to trim and tame your grass.
Garden Power Tools
Those electric hedge trimmers and weed whackers may be convenient, but they can prove pretty dangerous if you're not careful. In fact, according to the NEISS report, garden power tools caused more than 23,239 injuries in 2019 alone.
It pays—literally—to know what you're doing before you fire up the BBQ. NEISS found that grills and stoves contributed to 19,865 injuries in 2019, and according to the U.S. Fire Administration, grills caused approximately $37 million in property damage from 2006 to 2008 alone.
Those beautiful oleander flowers blooming in your yard might actually be dangerous. Though oleander is primarily deadly to animals, a 2010 study published in Heart Views revealed that, in an otherwise healthy 21-year-old woman, oleander ingestion caused vomiting, lightheadedness, blockage in the ventricle of her heart, and an irregular heart rate. Tragically, in 2000, two California toddlers even died from oleander consumption.
Though it bears pretty flowers and tempting-looking fruit that resembles blueberries, don't mistake Belladonna for a harmless plant. While before modern times, it was frequently used as both an anesthetic and component in cosmetics, scientists now know that the plant is highly poisonous and can cause everything from cardiac and respiratory distress to central nervous system dysfunction.
"When out gardening, look out for plants like poison oak," advises Cutler."Most people are allergic to the oils on these plants and can develop a rash, itching, and blisters in areas that come in contact with the oils."
If you do come into contact with the oils from poison oak, it's important to note that washing your hands may not be enough to stop a reaction in its tracks. According to Cutler, the oils in poison oak can stick to everything from clothing to pets' fur, so you might still end up having a reaction days after you've been exposed if you're not careful.
Those pretty branches and berries you decorate your house with come Christmastime could spell real trouble should you consume them. According to the National Capital Poison Center, eating holly berries can cause drowsiness, dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea. And though some animals eat them, your pets shouldn't; the plants can cause similar unpleasant symptoms in your four-legged friends. And if you want to make the most of your outdoor space, check out these 20 Genius Ways to Spiff up Your Backyard.