How to Avoid Sun Illnesses


Heat and Sun Related Illnesses



© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton



There is nothing more enjoyable than a fun filled day in the sun! Those of us who live in Missouri are lucky to have the excellent we do. Our weather allows us to fish, hunt, hike and camp, knowing that most of the days will be warm and filled with sunshine. While our summers are excellent for outdoor activities, we should all be aware of one of the dangers associated with too much sunshine, sunburn. Now, I realize most of you have had some experience with sunburns, but how much do we really know about the injury?


Sunburn is simply overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. And, these rays can cause both temporary (a slight burn) and long-term (including cancer) damage to our skin. While our society identifies those individuals with a nice dark tan as being healthy, that perception is not accurate. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays actually cause, besides the danger of cancer, premature aging of our skin. So, we may look good and healthy now, but in a few years we will begin to pay for our tan.


Children, including infants, are very susceptible to sunburn. Also, those people with light or fair skin will usually burn before they tan, if the skin is not protected with sunscreen. Keep in mind, even those folks with dark skin can be sunburned, if the exposed skin is not protected. So, what I am saying in a nutshell, is all of us can suffer sunburn under the right conditions and if we are not protected from the sun's rays.


Sunburn usually occurs because we fail to cover exposed skin due to the temperature and heat when we are outdoors. When the weather is very hot we may just put on a tank top and a pair of shorts, increasing the risk of sunburn. And, at times, we may forget the sunscreen or just decide not to put it on. Also, keep in mind that most sunburn's will happen between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon, because that is when the sun's ultraviolet rays are the strongest. Additionally, reflection from water, sand, or any light colored surface can cause sunburn. That is why fishermen are often burned after a day on the water.


All of us, at one time or another, have had a minor sunburn, with the red, tender skin that feels hot to the touch. Usually, after a few days, the discomfort disappears and we are back to normal again with no side affects. In more severe cases, blisters can develop and even "sun poisoning" (rash, chills, and nausea) can occur. In most cases we will lose a layer of skin that will peel off a few days after the burn. Also, some medications, such as doxycycline, can actually increase your chances of a sunburn. Ask you doctor about any medications you may be taking prior to heading out doors.


If you experience a sunburn, how do you teat it? Well, first lets look at what you should not do. Do not wash the area with a strong soap, or apply petroleum jelly, benzocaine, butter, or alcohol. These products can actually make your condition worse and prevent a normal healing time. You should take a cool shower or bath, apply a body lotion to the damaged area (Aloe gel is great for this). If you do not have a lotion on hand, you can add baking soda to your bath water to help relieve the discomfort. Also, the typical use of common pain relievers, such as Tylenol or Motrin may help reduce the minor aches and pains associated with sunburn.


If the sunburn victim experiences dizziness, rapid pulse, pale, cool, or clammy skin, nausea, chills, rash, or fever, seek medical attention immediately. Other symptoms to watch for are if the victims eyes hurt or are sensitive to light, extreme thirst with very little, or no urine output, or sunken eyes. These may be signs of other heat and sun related injuries such as heat exhaustion, shock, or heat stroke. In case of any of these symptoms see a doctor as soon as possible.


Well, now that we have a better understanding of the dangers associated with the sun, how do we prevent the injury in the first place?


Always use sunscreen and lip balm.

  • When in the sun, wear a hat or ball cap to protect your eyes and face.
  • Make sure your sunglasses have UV protection for your eyes.
  • Avoid exposure to the sun between 10 am and 2 pm. Remember, that is the peak time for UV rays.
  • Apply your sunscreen about 30 minutes before exposure to allow it time to be absorbed by your skin. Reapply the sunscreen after you have been swimming or about every 2 hours.
  • The sunscreen you use should be rated at least 30 SPF (Sun protection factor).
  • The higher the SPF the more protection it gives you.
  • Pay close attention to nose, ears, neck, shoulders and face when applying the sunscreen, to get maximum protection.

Each year in Missouri thousands of us will be sunburned. Most of us will suffer the minor discomforts associated with the injury and go on. But, how many new cases of skin cancer will result in future years? How many of us will visit emergency rooms for treat of sunburns, heat exhaustion or heat stroke? I suggest this does not have to happen. Use common sense in the outdoors, always protect yourself from over exposure, use sunscreen, and most importantly, enjoy your summer!


Stay safe and I will see you on the trails and watch the sun.



Sun Illnesses
Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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