As the weather turns warmer and children and adults spend more time outside, preventing sunburns becomes important. A sunburn occurs when the skin becomes burned from exposure to invisible light called ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light comes from the sun and can cause a sunburn when a person is in the sun for too long. A sunburn can occur even on a cloudy or cool day since UV light passes through clouds.
Tanning beds also produce UV light and can cause sunburns.
Here are some important facts to keep in mind to let you know your sunburn risk and how to decrease your chances of a sunburn ruining your summer fun.
■ Following a sunburn, the skin heals but is forever damaged. The more frequent and more severe the burns, the more damage there is.
■ Although most sunburns are not severe, a lifetime of sun exposure and frequent sunburns can lead to wrinkles, premature aging, cataracts and skin cancers.
■ Sunburns also significantly increase the risk of a serious type of skin cancer called melanoma.
■ People with fair skin or light-colored hair are more likely to sunburn than people with darker skin.
■ Living in a sunny or high-altitude climate and taking certain medications can increase the risk of sunburn.
■ The symptoms of a sunburn usually appear within a few hours after sun exposure. Most commonly, the skin is red, painful and feels hot to the touch. More severe sunburns can cause blisters, severe pain, swelling, headache, fever and fatigue.
■ See a health care provider if a sunburn is blistering and covers a large portion of your body; is accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, confusion, nausea or chills; or does not respond to at-home treatment within a few days.
■ Treat a mild sunburn at home by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever; applying cold compresses to the affected skin; and applying a moisturizing cream — aloe vera or hydrocortisone lotions — to the affected skin. If blisters form, do not break them. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Treat peeling skin gently. Stay out of the sun until redness and pain resolve.
Mollie E. Aleshire, is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.