Just when you think it could not get any hotter, you will get burned badly. That is what sunburns are all about. Only five sunburns in a lifetime will double your chance of getting skin cancer, including the worst type - melanoma. Even if you don’t burn and only tan, the years of accumulation of sun or tanning bed exposure will often result in other types of skin cancer and pre-mature aging. The Environmental Protection Agency states a healthy suntan does not exist. Any change to someone’s natural skin color is a sign of skin damage and aging.
The incidence of skin cancer is still increasing. A million people are diagnosed each year with skin cancer. Unfortunately a lot of this damage begins when we are mere kids. That is why prevention is so important and successful especially when started early.
Following these prevention tips will help keep you and your family skin safe over the years. Try not to be in the direct concentrated sun during the hottest times of 10 AM to 4 PM. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes prior to exposure and re-apply every 2 hours, even more often when in the water. Use sunscreen with SPF grade of 15 or higher. Avoid tanning beds. The short term good looks are not worth the years of skin troubles later. Learn to check your skin for concerning moles several times a year. Follow the ABCs of early skin cancer detection: A for asymmetry in color or shape, B for border with uneven or irregular edges, C for change of color within the mole or changing in size, and D for diameter greater than ¼ inch, about size of pencil eraser.
An even more danger than the sun’s UV rays is the tremendous heat it gives off. Heat exhaustion occurs when the body loses its ability to stay cool by losing excessive amounts of water and salt through excessive sweating. It can even occur indoors. Strenuous activity or work, combined with high heat and humidity, play a significant role. The elderly, small children and those on chronic medications are at highest risk. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive fatigue and sweating, weakness, dizziness, headaches, muscle cramps, and rapid heart beat. If not treated rapidly with water and cooling off, it could lead to heat stroke involving confusion, coma and possible death. Prevention is key with frequent breaks from the heat and plenty of fluids about 2 to 3 times an hour. Periodically a sports drink, like Gatorade, is helpful to replenish salts and electrolytes throughout the day. Proper skin protection and plenty of fluids will help you and your family enjoy the most out of these long hot days of summer.
Dr. Jeffrey Smith is a family practice physician and medical director at Three Rivers Community Health Group, which operates two medical clinics; Three Rivers Community Health in Lyles and Perry County Medical Center in Linden TN.