Keep summer fun and healthy with proper protection from sun

Contributing ColumnistJune 13, 2014 

The summer sun may be welcome after a long winter, but it's important to be cautious in the sun and heat to avoid common ailments.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky has some of the highest incidence rates of melanoma skin cancer with between 22.5 and 33.4 cases per 100,000 people. Kentucky is also among states with the highest death rate from skin cancer.

Sunburns are a significant risk factor for development of skin cancer. The more often you burn, the higher your risk. Taking a few easy steps can help you avoid sunburns. Stay covered, or stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the hottest part of the day when the sun is most intense.

Sunscreen that is SPF 30 and has both UVA and UVB protection is recommended and frequent reapplication — every two to three hours — is important. Even if the sunscreen is water resistant, you should reapply regularly because no sunscreen is truly waterproof. Sunscreen should also be used under cloudy skies because cloud cover does not protect from sunburn. A light T-shirt is equivalent to SPF 8, so don't rely on your clothing for complete protection.

This same protocol is recommended for adults and children. To avoid possible irritation, particularly on the face, look for sunscreen that is PABA free, because PABA can trigger allergic reactions.

Early excessive exposure to sun increases the long-term risk for melanoma and both basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, making sun protection for children very important.

Keep infants younger than six months of age covered and out of the sun. After 6 months, some sun may be recommended at the parent's discretion to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, but exposure should not be lengthy.

Individuals with fair skin and pregnant women are at higher risk for sunburn and should therefore be particularly cautious. Some medications can also increase sensitivity to sun exposure, so read your warning labels carefully.

Dehydration can make you sunburn more easily and make the burn take longer to heal. Watch for signs of dehydration such as thirst, dry or sticky mouth, infrequent or no urination, headache and muscle cramps. If you experience any of these symptoms, increase your fluid intake immediately.

Protecting your eyes is also important during the summer months. Chronic sun exposure increases your risk for cataracts and other eye-related diseases. Wear a hat or sunglasses when you are in the sun to protect your eyes. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays and are polarized provide the best protection.

A few simple, preventative steps can help you avoid common ailments related to sun exposure while you enjoy your favorite summer activities, making the summer time a lot more fun.

Dr. Ben Rambicure is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.

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