There are a few fundamental practices that should be followed to protect ourselves against the effects of the sun:
Applying sunscreen daily, especially when spending long periods of time in the sun, helps to protect our skin against UVA and UVB rays. Because of the vast number of different types of sunscreens, it is important to read and understand the information on the label before choosing one.
Sunscreen comes in many different forms: lotions, sprays, ointments, wipes, and creams, to name a few. But more important than the kind of sunscreen we purchase is the sun protection factor, or SPF, listed on the bottle. This rating demonstrates the amount of protection the product offers against the UVB rays emitted from the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher be used when spending time in the sun. The higher the rating, the more protection the product offers.
No sunscreen claims to offer 100 percent protection from the sun. However, using a product with a higher SPF rating and reapplying sunscreen often provides the maximum protection.
Our skin is not the only part of our body that can suffer sun damage. Failure to wear protective sunglasses can lead to surface tissue damage and trauma to the cornea and lens of the eye, which usually is irreversible. This damage also increases our chances of developing several eye-related illnesses, such as cataracts and skin cancer around the eyelids, later in life.
Eye damage can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race or gender. Even if it doesn’t appear to be particularly sunny outside, the pavement, water and sand reflect UV rays onto our eyes and skin, so it is important to wear sunglasses every day.
The heat of the sun encourages our bodies to sweat to stay cool. However, when we are sweating out more liquid than we are taking in, dehydration occurs. Some common symptoms of dehydration are:
• Dry mouth
• Muscle cramps
• Lightheadedness when standing
If untreated, dehydration can lead to complications such as kidney failure, shock, coma, electrolyte imbalance and even death. Doctors must work quickly to assess the severity of the condition and begin treatment. Blood samples often are taken to check for any change in electrolytes, which measures the body’s level of sodium and potassium. Intravenous fluid therapy also is administered to replace quickly the fluids and electrolytes that have been lost.
Infants and children are more likely to become dehydrated because of their small body weight. When taking children out in the sun, it is important that they drink plenty of water and have a cool place in the shade to retreat to when it gets to be too hot.
In less severe cases, dehydration can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications and electrolyte-infused beverages. However, you should always contact a physician before attempting at-home treatment.
People like to have a nice tan during the summer months. However, doctors advise covering up as much as possible when spending time in the sun. Different clothing provides different levels of UV protection. Dark colors offer more protection than light colors, and dry clothing is better than wet clothing. In addition, it is important to remember that if you can see through the fabric, UV rays can easily penetrate it.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is a good way to protect the face and eyes from excessive sun exposure. Infants should always wear hats when in the sun to protect the top of their head and their face from getting sunburned.
Protecting ourselves from sun damage reduces potential health complications later in life. Skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, is the most common form of cancer in the United States. People who spend time in tanning beds and those that fail to apply sunscreen are more likely to suffer from skin cancer. Other risk factors include:
• Genetics: Family history of melanoma dramatically increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer.
• Age: Skin cancers that are classified as non-melanoma, meaning they do not develop in the pigment-producing cells known as melanocytes, are more likely to occur in people older than 40.
• Complexion: Light-skinned individuals with light hair and eyes develop skin cancer more often than those with darker complexions.
Any changes to the look and feel of the skin should be brought to the attention of a physician immediately to rule out skin cancer.
Cynthia Brown, MD, is board-certified in family medicine and affiliated with the Northern Nevada Medical Group at 5070 Ion Drive in Spanish Springs. Dr. Brown earned her medical degree and completed her residency at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Offering same-day appointments, Northern Nevada Medical Group is accepting new patients and most of the areas health plans, including Medicare. Call 352-5300 for an appointment.