Sun Safety


Last month, we discussed the benefits of the sun in producing vitamin D and helping to alleviate depression caused by seasonal affective disorder, along with its healing attributes for certain conditions. This month, we will be focusing on the dangers of the sun. This is really important for young children, the elderly, people who are on certain medications, or those who are not used to spending extended time in the bright sunlight. Medications can be labeled photosensitive, which means the sun will have a stronger effect on their skin and can cause sunburn much faster than usual. These medications include:

·        certain oral antibiotics

·        diuretics

·        heart medications

·        birth control pills

·        oral and topical acne medications

·        certain perfumes or body lotions

Please check the insert on your medication to see if it is labeled photosensitive.

How to Protect Yourself

Make sure to put on sunscreen right as you leave the house. Sunscreen takes about 15 minutes to start working after applying it. Use a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or above. If you or your loved one is sensitive to chemicals, use a barrier sunscreen or a chemical-free sunscreen, such as zinc oxide. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied after swimming, sweating, or just being in the pool. A good rule is to reapply every 2 hours you are outside in the sun. Try to limit your time in the sun between 10 AM and 2 PM, when the sun’s rays are direct and it is at its strongest! Wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing. The newer swim rash guards (jackets, dresses, skirts with built in pants) all have SPF ratings. It is important to wear sunscreen on those areas of skin which are not covered. The sand and water reflect the sun’s rays, so keep this in mind. Babies and older people have skin that is a lot thinner and require more protection. If you are at the beach, keep babies and the elderly under an umbrella.

For most individuals, and especially for people who are normally covered up, either for modesty or because of the weather, the safe limit to be in the sun without sunscreen is about 15 minutes. Most people can get sunburned in just a quarter of an hour. The redness and pain might not show up right away.

Severe sunburns can also be called sun poisoning. These can be second degree burns when they blister.

Some of the skin symptoms of sun poisoning include:

·        Redness

·        Pain

·        Swelling

·        Itching

·        Blisters

Overall body symptoms can include:

·        Headache

·        Dizziness

·        Nausea and vomiting

·        Dehydration

·        Fever


How to Treat Sunburn

Of course, get out of the sun!

Treat the dehydration first by drinking more fluids, taking either Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin/Advil (ibuprofen) to relieve the headache, and then a cool shower or bath. Some people use an aloe cream or a lidocaine-based spray or cream (Solarcaine). It is important to lightly cover sunburned skin with clothing when going outside in the sun!

Seek immediate emergency care if you or a loved one has these symptoms:

·        A blistering sunburn that covers a large area of the body

·        A very swollen face

·        Fever higher than 100.4° F with chills

·        Confusion

·        Severe dehydration

The most dangerous effect of the sun is heat or sunstroke. This is a life-threatening emergency. It can kill or cause profound damage to the brain or other organs. It mainly affects older adults but it can happen to young children who are playing outside for long periods of time under the sun. Be aware that the first symptoms—stomach cramps or nausea—may not seem important, but sunstroke can progress very rapidly. These are the symptoms:

·        Dizziness

·        Dehydration

·        Lack of sweating; the skin is red, hot, and dry

·        Nausea

·        Muscle cramps and weakness

·        Fast heartbeat

·        Seizure

·        Unconsciousness

True heatstroke is where the body temperature is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It is VERY important to call 911/Hatzalah IMMEDIATELY!

Do NOT use ice if you see someone has collapsed while you are waiting for help. Move the person to a shaded area, remove as much of his/her clothing as possible, lay on cool water compresses, and fan the person.

Heatstroke can affect older people who don’t have air conditioning or good airflow in their home. Heatstroke can also affect people who don’t drink enough water in hot weather, people who drink a lot of alcohol, or those who have chronic illnesses that affect their kidneys, liver, or digestive system.

When you hear the weather report, and they mention the “heat index”, pay attention! The heat index is the measurement of how hot it feels when the air temperature and humidity in the air are combined. It is the reverse of the wind chill factor (where the temperature feels much colder than it actually is). When the humidity is 60% or more, the body cannot effectively evaporate sweat, which traps heat in the body instead of releasing it. Heatstroke is much more likely when the heat index is 90 or more.  Being in full sunshine, no matter what the heat index is, increases the heat index by 15 degrees.

If you have to be outside on extra hot days with a high heat index, it is advised that you:

·        Are dressed in lightweight and light-colored clothes which cover you completely, and wear a hat.

·        Are covered with a minimum of SPF 30 sunscreen.

·        Drink enough! During the summer months, it is advised you drink half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water a day. Some people prefer to drink sports drinks—this is fine, as long as you keep yourself hydrated! If you will be working or playing sports outside, drink at least 24 ounces of fluid 2 hours before going outside, 8 ounces just before working or playing, and 8 ounces every 20-30 minutes while outside, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

·        Change the timing of your work or play to either before 10 AM or after 2 PM when possible.

 Enjoy the sun this summer responsibly!

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Tobi Ash RN, BSN, MBA, is completing her PhD. For more than 25 years, Tobi has been teaching, mentoring, researching and helping women and girls with their healthcare issues with competent, compassionate care.