WASHINGTON — As summer temperatures heat up, more people are outside for longer periods of time, and more skin is exposed to the sun. The nation’s emergency physicians want to remind everyone of the dangers associated with sunburn.
“Most of us want to get some sun in the summertime,” said Dr. Andrew Sama, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “But emergency physicians see the pain of patients who gets too much sun. A little goes a long way, and if you don’t protect your skin, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage it in 15 minutes.”
You may not know the full extent of skin damage until several hours after you’ve been exposed. Also, don’t be fooled by a tan as opposed to a sunburn in terms of health. A tan is simply damaged skin.
The obvious major risk is skin cancer. Melanoma is currently the third most common skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and it can be deadly.
Those at highest risk include:
• Those with a history of sunburn
• Those with lighter, natural skin color
• Those with light colored hair (blond or red)
• Those with personal history of skin cancer
• Those with family history of skin cancer
• Those with many moles on their skin
• Those whose immune systems are suppressed
The risk of melanoma is more than 10 percent higher for whites than for dark-skinned people, but people of every color should protect their skin.
Other sunburn dangers include dehydration, eye damage, second-degree burns, skin infections and rarely shock from massive fluid loss.
Even if it’s cool and cloudy, the sun can do damage to your skin and you still need protection. It is the sun’s UV rays and not the ground temperature that is doing the harm.
How to protect yourself from sunburn:
• Seek shade, especially during midday hours when the sun is strongest (10 am to 3 pm)
• Wear sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection and with sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 15 or higher. Use higher SPF when near the water or at higher elevations.
• Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 to 3 hours, especially after swimming and sweating.
• Wear sunglasses with UV ray protection to protect your eyes.
• Wear a hat to protect your head.
• Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
• Teach children how to protect their skin. Especially protect the sensitive skin of babies younger than 6 months.
“Protect your skin,” said Dr. Sama. “The damage you do to it may come back and haunt you years from now in the form of skin cancer. It’s simply not worth the risk.”
Of course, if you notice any unusual discoloration on your skin or anything out of the ordinary, it’s best to have it checked out by a physician.
ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.