Take Care to Avoid Getting Overexposed to the Sun
by Nicholas Licari, MSN, FNP-BC
During the summer, we all enjoy our time outside. Nothing is better than spending time outside with our friends and family at the beach, the golf course or just relaxing in our backyard.
To make certain summer fun doesn’t impact your health, pay attention to the time you spend in the sun. Too much sun exposure can lead to sunburn, and individuals with fair skin are at the greatest risk.
The first sign of sunburn is redness of the skin. This discoloration is the body’s natural response to inflammation from the sun’s strong rays.
In mild cases, the skin might only feel irritated or itchy. Most sunburns cause pain or “burning” of the skin the day after over exposure. A few days later, the skin will become dry and begin to peel.
The worst cases of sunburn might be referred to as sun poisoning. This can include hives or blistering of the skin, swelling of extremities, severe pain and flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, headache and nausea. If any of these more concerning symptoms arise, medical attention is needed.
Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available for sunburn. However, no treatment can undo the skin damage, and if symptoms are severe or unrelieved, you should visit your primary care provider.
While healing from a sunburn, do not go out in the sun. Additional exposure can make the burn worse.
For pain relief, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) are effective. A cool bath or shower also will help ease burning symptoms.
Topical treatments such as aloe vera gel or calamine lotion can be applied directly to the affected skin. Be sure to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
While treatment alleviates symptoms, preventing sun damage in the first place is your best option. Limit sun exposure when it is strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you will be outside during these peak hours, seek shade or create some of your own with an umbrella and wear protective clothing such as a hat with a broad brim, a long-sleeve shirt with pants and sunglasses with UV protection.
Any skin that is not covered needs a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. This should be applied every two hours while outdoors and more frequently if swimming or sweating. Sunscreen should be applied even on cloudy days, as the damaging ultraviolet rays will still reach your skin.
Unfortunately, sunburn can lead to complications. While a tan might be cosmetically desirable, sun-marred skin certainly is not, and tanning beds should be avoided, as the artificial light they produce is equally as harmful to the skin.
If you are taking medications, you also should check with your provider if they could increase your risk for sunburn.
Repeated sunburns are known to increase skin aging and can produce wrinkles, skin discoloration, freckles and dry, rough skin. The eyes can also be affected by over exposure to the sun and diseases, such as cataracts or macular degeneration might develop.
And, of course, it is well known that repeated over exposure to the sun increases the risk for skin cancer. Worrisome signs include new skin growth, an old mole that grows larger or changes in shape/color, or bleeding from a skin lesion. If any of these symptoms arise, you should get checked by your provider.