Ware, MA (July 19, 2013) – Long summer days, the extreme heat and exposure to the more intense summer sun’s UV rays can greatly increase your risk of getting a sunburn. Unfortunately, there's no fast-fix sunburn treatment. One thing is certain, it’s always better to prevent than treat a sunburn! Whether you are at the beach, biking, or doing yard work, whenever you spend any time outdoors you need to take steps to protect your skin from a sunburn.
A sunburn is red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch, and is actually a radiation burn of your skin. The ultraviolet light from the sun damages the DNA of your skin cells, triggering these cells to die. Sunburn can range from a minor irritant to several days of misery, depending on your skin type and length of exposure to the sun. Once you have sunburn, it may take 12 to 24 hours after sun exposure to know the full extent and severity of sunburn, and it can take several days for your skin to begin to heal.
There are a number of things that people can do to protect themselves and their families from the sun and extreme heat including:
Apply sun block with an SPF of 15 or higher at least 15 to 30 minutes before venturing out into the sun and re-apply at least every two hours especially if you have been swimming or perspiring. Be sure to pay special attention to the tip of your nose, your ears, the tops of your feet, and your shoulders.
Limit outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is the strongest. Beware of cloudy days. Clouds and particulate matter in the air scatter sunlight. You can still burn even on a cloudy day.
Sand and water reflect UV radiation, which means being in the shade under a beach umbrella does not provide complete protection.
Protect your eyes, remember the sun glasses. In addition to skin cell damage, UV radiation has also been blamed for certain eye conditions, such as cataracts. Most sunglasses will note on the tag if they provide UV protection.
Protect your children. Keep them from excessive sun exposure when the sun is strongest and apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to children 6 months of age and older.
Do not use sunscreen on children under 6 months of age. Parents with children under 6 months of age should severely limit their children's sun exposure.
If you take prescription drugs, check with your doctor before going out into the sun. Some medicines can increase your risk of sunburn or interact with the sun to cause rashes or other side effects.
Remember, once skin is sunburned it is more sensitive to further exposure.
Say no tanning beds. According to the American Cancer Society a recent study estimated that regular use of tanning beds increased the risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Tanning beds deliver radiation—varying degrees of UVA and UVB rays, depending on the machine. Both forms of radiation cause skin cancer and premature aging. Avoid them!
If you get sunburn:
Keep it cool. Apply cold compresses, such as a towel dampened with cool water to the affected skin, or take a cool bath. Avoid hot showers.
Keep it moist. Apply moisturizing cream or aloe to the affected skin. Avoid products containing alcohol, which can further dry out skin. Beware of sunburn treatment products containing anesthetics, such as benzocaine, they are notorious for causing allergic contact dermatitis.
Increase fluid Intake. Sunburns actually dehydrate your body, so replenish your lost fluids by drinking plenty of water. Upping your fluid intake may also indirectly soothe sunburn pain.
Leave blisters intact. If blisters form, don't break them. You'll only slow the healing process and increase the risk of infection. If needed, lightly cover blisters with gauze.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If needed, take anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others). Remember never give children or teenagers aspirin. It may cause Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.
Consult a doctor or seek emergency care for sunburn treatment if:
• Is blistering and covers a large portion of your body
• Is accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills
• Doesn’t respond to at-home care within a few days
• If you notice any sign of infection
Dr. Lafleur joins the board certified Emergency Medicine Physicians who proudly provides expert care in the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department. The mission of the Baystate Mary Lane Hospital Emergency Department is to provide timely and exceptional care. With our 30-minute pledge, our goal is for a provider to see every patient within 30 minutes of their arrival at our facility. Check out iTriage, a smartphone-based application for Android and iPhone to see our actual ER wait times. For more information visit www.baystatehealth.org/bmlh or find us on facebook.