These Are All of the Health Dangers Lurking in Your Backyard
Bugs and plants and pools, oh my!
Your backyard is supposed to be a refuge, a place where you can take a break at the end of a long day unbothered by the stresses that otherwise plague you. However, behind that fencing, on your kids’ outdoor toys, and under that pool cover lurk a long list of health dangers even the most safety-conscious individuals are likely to overlook. Before you inadvertently put yourself or a loved one in harm’s way, make sure you know these health dangers hiding out in your backyard.
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 David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “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.
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. What’s more, in 2018, there were nearly 195,000 injuries related to swimming pools and associated equipment in the United States.
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 Kirsten Bechtel, MD, a Yale Medicine pediatric emergency medicine doctor and trauma prevention expert. “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. Make sure kids know how to swim or have basic water competence.”
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 116,000 trampoline-related injuries in the United States in 2018 alone.
“Trampolines are fun and children love to bounce so they seem attractive as a backyard fixture, but 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. “Children can be hurt on a trampoline by colliding with another child, falling onto the springs or frame of the trampoline, or falling from the trampoline to the ground. These injuries—like broken bones, sprains, concussions, and many bruises—occur at a high velocity due to the force of the bounce.”
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 218,500 playground equipment-related injuries in the U.S. in 2018 alone.
Trees and power lines aren’t a good mix—and the combo can prove seriously dangerous during severe weather situations. According to one 2019 report from researchers at Carepoint Health Bayonne Medical Center, St. George’s University, and the University of Louisville, electrical injuries are responsible for approximately 1,000 deaths and 30,000 shock incidents each year, 20 percent of which occur in children.
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 nearly 92,000 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 23,700a injuries in 2018 alone.
It pays—literally—to know what you’re doing before you fire up the BBQ. NEISS found that grills and stoves contributed to almost 23,000 injuries in 2018, and according to the U.S. Fire Administration, grills caused approximately $37 million in property damage from 2006 to 2008.
Make sure you have a spotter—and a good one at that—before you start making repairs in your yard that require you to stand on a ladder. NEISS data showed that ladders and stools were behind more than 240,000 injuries in 2018.
You might want to think twice before taking your four-wheeler out for a spin this summer. According to the NEISS report, ATVs, mopeds, and minibikes were responsible for 201,170 stateside injuries in 2018.
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. “These diseases include 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. In fact, 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, according to the CDC.
When it comes to ticks, the No. 1 disease to watch out for is Lyme disease. “Over 95 percent of cases of Lyme disease in the United States occur in the Northeastern U.S. and some forested parts of the Midwest,” says Cutler. “Be on the lookout for a rash that looks like a bullseye. 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.”
Lyme disease is far from the only disease that ticks carry, though. These pests are also responsible for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tularemia, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. They can even trigger alpha-gal syndrome, which can cause meat allergies in those affected.
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.”
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.
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 such as West Nile Virus,” says Bechtel.
Standing water can also lead to an electric shock if it comes in contact with electrified tools or downed power lines, so it would be best to avoid the bodies of water entirely.
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. “Under the right conditions, cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae) blooms may form and produce harmful toxins, which your family can become exposed to while swimming or simply fishing and walking along the edge of a waterbody. Direct contact or ingestion of the toxins can cause skin and eye irritation, digestive problems, fever, sore throat, headache, muscle and joint pain, blisters of the mouth, and liver damage.”
Stewart notes that some experts even believe exposure may lead to the development of diseases like ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. And if you want to protect yourself well beyond the backyard, discover these 27 Amazing Personal Safety Tips That Will Change Your Life.
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