HMatW eNewsletter


June/July 2013

Don’t Get Burned This Summer

image of guy sleeping on beachThe season of “fun in the sun” has arrived. And, as is often the case, too much of a good thing can sometimes be bad. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, accounting for nearly half of all cancers in the United States.

Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning booths
  • Having pale skin that easily burns and having natural red or blond hair
  • You or other members of your family have had skin cancers
  • Multiple or unusual moles
  • Severe sunburns in the past

Signs of possible skin cancer:

  • Any change on your skin, especially in the size or color of a mole, growth or spot, or a new growth (even if it has no color)
  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or a change in the way a bump or nodule looks
  • The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
  • A change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness or pain

How to prevent skin cancer:

  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM. Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (SPF 30 or higher is best). Apply about a palmful at least 30 minutes before outdoor activities. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Cover up with clothing, wear a brimmed hat and wear sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Teach children the shadow rule: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

Another danger of spending too much time in the hot sun is heat exhaustion, which occurs when people are exposed to high temperatures, especially when combined with strenuous physical activity and humidity. Body fluids are lost through sweating, causing dehydration and overheating the body.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Skin is pale, cool and moist
  • Profuse sweating
  • Muscle cramps or pains
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

If any of the above symptoms are present, the person should stop physical activity, rest in a cool, shaded area, drink cool fluids (water or sports drinks – no alcohol or caffeine), loosen or remove clothing and apply cool water to skin.

If left untreated, heat exhaustion will progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency that happens when the body’s cooling system, which is controlled by the brain, stops working and the internal body temperature rises to the point at which brain damage or other internal organs sustain damage.

Signs of heat stroke, any of which require immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unconsciousness that lasts for longer than a few seconds
  • Convulsions
  • Body temperature is 105 degrees or higher
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating has stopped and skin is hot, red and dry
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea

Finally, spending more time outside during warm weather also means being bothered by pesky bugs, such as mosquitoes and ticks – both of which can cause disease. In the United States, mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus and ticks can transmit Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. To help prevent these illnesses, use an appropriate insect and tick repellent. Look for a product that contains 20 percent DEET and make sure to apply it properly. If mosquitoes are the biggest problem, look for products that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus. You can also treat clothing with permethrin, which protects through several washings.

Keep in mind that prime mosquito-biting hours are from dusk to dawn. To reduce any mosquito problems in your yard, remove items that may collect standing water – mosquitoes can breed in them in just days. To keep ticks at a distance, avoid tick-infested areas – high grass areas and places that have a lot of leaf-litter. Also, remove brush and woodpiles from around your house.

After a day outside, shower as soon as possible and check your body for ticks. Wash all clothing and be sure to check your pets for ticks, too. If you find a tick attached, they can be easily removed with fine-tipped tweezers. If you develop a fever, body aches, rash, headache, stiff neck or fatigue in the 1-3 weeks after getting bit by a mosquito or tick, see your healthcare provider right away.

Summer is arguably the most anticipated season of the year. With a measure of precaution and common sense, it can also keep its reputation of being the most fun season. Stay safe and have fun!

Sources: American Cancer Society, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)