Sunburn and your skin: When to see a doctor
Beach sunburn near Atlanta
By Alpana Patel-Camilli
Summers can be scorching in Atlanta and bring unbelievably high temperatures for several months. Whether you're spending the day on the beach at Lake Lanier or just hiking along the Chattahoochee River, the sun is sizzling and before you know it, you or a family member comes home with a nasty sunburn.
When the sun burns you, the ultraviolet (UV) rays literally cook the protein in the skin. The irritated, inflamed, and painful response is your immune system in hyperdrive against the UV rays. The burn is a result of DNA damage to your skin. A poll from iVillage and The Skin Cancer Foundation found that 42 percent of people polled get burned at least once a year. Unfortunately, it only takes one searing burn in childhood or adolescence to more than double your chances of developing skin cancer later in life. It's a frightening thought. All that is required is a bit of knowledge, forethought and some pre-planning to steer clear and protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays.
What are UV rays?
UV rays are part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum. They have the smallest wavelength compared to visible and infrared light and are broken down into three broad areas: UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, UV-C radiation is filtered and absorbed by the ozone layer, becoming too weak to cause us harm.
The other two, UV-A and UV-B radiation, are the damaging culprits. They are the primary causes of skin damage. Although both rays are involved in creating a burn, our skin reacts differently to them. UV-A rays penetrate deeper into the epidermis, prematurely aging the skin to cause wrinkles and age spots. UV-A rays can pass through a window glass. UV-B rays are the primary cause of the actual burn, and a window glass blocks UV-B rays. More UV-A rays pass through the Earth's atmosphere than UV-B rays.
How can I prevent getting burned?
The melanin or pigment in your skin creates a type of barrier from the sun. Thus, fair-skinned people are more susceptible to burns than dark-skinned people. We can't help what skin tone we are born with, but here are a few things we can do to prevent a fiery, uncomfortable burn.
First and most important is to slather on the sunscreen. According to the Academy of Dermatology, sunscreens and sunblock protect the skin from damage by absorbing and scattering the sun's rays. They recommend using water-resistant (40-80 minutes) sunblock with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Remember that SPF protects against UV-B rays only. Check that labels include UV-A and UV-B protection or "say broad spectrum coverage." Make sure to use about two ounces (a shot glass full) of lotion. The sun breaks down the ingredients in sunscreen, so reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or heavy sweating.
Secondly, try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the rays are the strongest. Seek shade if you are outdoors between those times. Even on cloudy days you can get burned. Consider using the same protection when outside in cold or hot temperatures, because either way, 80 percent of the sun's rays pass through the atmosphere. Sand and snow both reflect the sun's rays, which can intensify the reaction to your skin.
Thirdly, wear a hat to protect your face, along with a pair of UV-A and UV-B protected sunglasses. Try to wear appropriate clothing to shield your skin.
As for children, keep unprotected newborns out of the sun. Children six months and older should also have on sunscreen, hats and sunglasses.
Some medications might make your skin sensitive to sunlight:
Take extra sun precautions when taking certain medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about sun exposure and medications if you are not sure.
Signs and symptoms
The pain and redness will be your first indication of a burn, but things can get much worse. Your skin could develop blisters, which indicate a second degree burn. Leave them alone and let them heal on their own.
When to consult a doctor
If you have many blisters that are very painful and don't improve within a few days, contact a dermatologist. You want to see a doctor immediately for proper medical care if you have any of the following:
If a young child has a bad burn and is at risk for dehydration, or if the child is burned over a large part of his body, seek immediate medical attention.
Treatments for the burn
You can't escape it: Once you have a sunburn, get ready for the pain. Try taking a cool bath, and pat--don't rub--your skin with a towel. Apply a moisturizer, such as cooled aloe vera gel, on moist skin. Aloe vera can help when your skin begins to peel, a natural part of the healing process. Try this home remedy to soothe the burning skin by using a wash cloth soaked in cold skim milk. The coolness will take out the initial fire, and the milk creates a protein film that helps ease the scorched sensation.
Burns draw the fluid in your body toward the surface, so it is very important to stay hydrated. Drink, drink and drink lots of fluids. Water or sports energy drinks without caffeine and without a lot of sugar are recommended.
If you can't stand the pain, take some ibuprofen, which also helps with the swelling. Avoid products with "-caine" in the word. Most products like benzocaine can also dry the skin.
We don't have to live in fear of the sun if we know what to expect and take proper precautions.
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