Tag Archives: summer

Facts About Sunburn

Sunburn means damage to your skin. The pain and discomfort is a sign that damage has occurred. The specific cause is a molecule in the skin called TRPV4, which is also associated with a common hereditary disease that affects the larynx. In the skin—in particular, the outermost epidermal layer of the skin—it responds to the UVB rays in sunlight by triggering a response the brings calcium to the surface of the skin. The calcium, in turn, comes with a chemical called endothelin, which causes pain and itching, but also draws more calcium—and more endothelin. But sunburn does more than suffuse your skin with calcium. Over time, the UV rays that cause sunburn can also lead to skin cancer.

Unfortunately the damage happens early. In fact, according to a recent study, skin cancer risk in middle age or beyond is 80 percent higher in people who had five or more sunburns between ages 15 and 20 —a large increase for what is already the most common form of cancer in the United States. Even study subjects with no family history of skin cancer were more prone to develop it themselves if they had multiple blistering sunburns as adolescents.

The good news is that while early sunburn is a risk, avoiding sunburn even later in life can still provide some measure of protection. People who are especially prone to burning—people with fair skin, people who take certain medications, anyone who drinks while or immediately before going out in the sun—should be especially cautious. That means covering up as much as is possible when going out in the summer. It means wide-brimmed hats and UV-protecting sunglasses. It means staying in the shade, including the portable shade of a parasol for people with a particular tendency to burn.

It also means sunscreen. Experts say that sunscreen doesn't provide complete protection, but it does significantly improve matters. Sunscreen should have a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. A shot-glass-full is enough to cover most adults, though people showing more skin—or people with more skin to show—may need more. Some form of sunburn protection is important even on cloudy days, and even for people who aren't planning to simply soak up rays. It should be applied 15 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. Even waterproof sunscreen could probably stand to be reapplied after it gets wet, especially after a dip in the pool.

Treatment Options For Skin Cancer

Melanoma is one of the most survivable forms of cancer, with a ten-year survival rate of 75 percent. It’s also the most common of the three types of skin cancer, itself the most common form of cancer in the United States. An estimated 2 million people are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, one in every 150 Americans. The three kinds of skin caner are squamous-cell, basal cell, and melanoma. Squamous-cell carcinoma is found the layer of cells immediately under the epidermis. The next layer is the basal cell layer, where basal cell carcinoma is found. Melanoma occurs in the innermost skin layer.

The most obvious symptoms of skin caner are associated with the mnemonic ABCDE:

  • A mole or other mark that is asymmetrical, with a different shape on each side
  • An uneven or ragged border
  • The mark has multiple colors
  • The mark is more than a quarter-inch in diameter, about the size of a pencil eraser
  • The mark is evolving, changing its size or shape from week to week.

The standard treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove the growth, though this isn’t always possible for melanoma. Researchers recently found a treatment approach that may be effective for melanoma. Cancers such as melanoma are dependent on copper to grow and spread because of a genetic mutation. In a study using laboratory animals, administering a drug that blocks the absorption of copper caused tumors to shrink.

Lyme Disease Surprises

Early detection of disease is always important, but for some, it’s the only way to get effective treatment. One such condition is the tick-borne illness Lyme disease. Unfortunately, it’s very easy for the rash to be missed. The classic bull’s-eye pattern is common, but the rash can also look like contact dermatitis, lupus, insect or spider bites, or skin infections, or not be there at all. This means doctors often miss the disease, or aren’t consulted, and the patient doesn’t get proper treatment. Untreated Lyme disease can cause meningitis, facial paralysis, poor muscle control, or pain or weakness in the limbs, and this can happen months or even years after the initial infection.

This is why researchers are looking for better diagnostic techniques. One surprising one uses ticks—but not ticks infected with the Lyme disease bacterium. This xenodiagnosis, or using an animal to spot a disease in humans, essentially uses the uninfected ticks as bloodhounds, getting them to seek out signs of the presence of the bacteria. So far, the research has shown little actual success, but scientists say it does appear promising. If it can be properly developed, this method may help doctors determine if people have dormant infections, meaning they still harbor active bacteria even after all Lyme disease symptoms seem to have gone away.

Although ticks are primarily responsible for transmitting Lyme disease, there’s now some new evidence that not all cases are contracted in the woods. Samples taken from infected people and their spouses suggest that in some cases,Lyme disease might be sexually transmitted. Researchers say that there were signs of Lyme disease bacteria where one would expect to find bacteria that cause a sexually transmitted disease. One couple had identical bacteria, meaning either that they had been infected by the same tick—unlikely, given how short-lived ticks are—or one had infected the other.

Preventing Lyme disease is a better option than having to treat it: using insect repellant and covering exposed skin in tick-heavy areas such as woods, checking pets that have been playing outdoors, and promptly checking people who might have been exposed. Checking means looking closely and carefully for ticks and removing them, grasping them gently (so as not to crush them and make the bite worse) by the head with tweezers and pulling them off. If someone is infected, a course of antibiotics may be given, but it doesn’t always completely work.

Ultraviolet Light And Your Eyes

After going out on a boat in Portugal, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper woke up at night with a burning sensation in his eyes and found that he was blind. Like most people, he had learned as a child not to stare directly at the sun. However, also like most people, Cooper didn’t realize how dangerous the sun’s ultraviolet light can be to your eyes, and what steps need to be taken to avoid it.

Cooper is one of a growing number of people who have experienced eye damage from ultraviolet light. He was lucky; he could see again less than two days later. Ultraviolet-induced photokeratitis can persist far longer than that, and can even cause permanent damage to vision. Symptoms include tears and moisture, pain and discomfort, narrowed pupils, and eyelid twitching. Reflected sunlight can cause photokeratitis as much as direct, as can using arc welding equipment without proper eye protection.

Ultraviolet light isn’t visible to people—though it is to bees—but it still packs a punch. It’s a slightly shorter wavelength than visible light, and it comes from the sun like visible light does. In addition to photokeratitis, it can damage vision in several other ways:

  • Ultraviolet light is a major cause of skin cancer, to which the thin skin of the eyelids is particularly vulnerable.
  • The leading cause of blindness is clouding of the lens of the eye, or cataracts. Research shows that exposure to ultraviolet light increases the formation of cataracts.
  • Age-related macular degeneration, deterioration of the center part of the retina, is another leading cause of blindness. Ultraviolet light damaging the retina is believed to be a contributing factor to this deterioration.

You can protect yourself with sunglasses—a precaution Cooper says he had failed to take—but not all shades offer the same level of protection. There’s no standard labeling, but anything that says it offers ultraviolet protection probably does offer some degree. Polarized lenses shield your eyes from glare. Make sure you have lenses big enough to offer complete protection.

Sunburn Safety and Salve

Summertime is a time for fun in the sun, but sunburn can mean the fun stops. Sunburn is painful because it is a sign of damage to your skin. It happens when ultraviolet light from the sun—or a tanning bed or other artificial source—burns and destroys skin tissue cells.

The best approach is to avoid sunburn in the first place. The most effective way to do this is, obviously, to stay indoors and not be exposed to sunlight, but you miss out on a lot of summer activities that way. Most people don’t need to go that far, however. What you do need to do is stay in the shade when you can, perhaps carrying a parasol if you’re particularly prone to burning.

When this isn’t feasible—for example, when being in the sun is the whole point, such as at the beach—use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you’re especially fair-skinned or have a family history of skin cancer, you should use something stronger. Water resistant is best even if you’re not swimming; you may get splashed or perspire it off otherwise.

Apply sunscreen to all skin that is likely to be exposed at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply it every two hours. Most people need about an ounce of sunscreen (a shot-glass full) for complete coverage, more if you’re particularly tall, particularly large, or particularly exposed.

If you do get burned, the damage is already done; all you can really do at that point is deal with the discomfort. The most important things to remember for that are cool, moist, and gentle: Take a cold bath, or apply towels soaked in cool water to the affected areas. Apply moisturizing lotion liberally, but be sure to avoid products with alcohol or benzocaine. Alcohol will only dry the skin out further—and not just when you apply it topically, but also when you drink it—while benzocaine has been linked to a possibly fatal condition. continue with moisturizer once the skin has begun to peel, and be gentle with the area. Peeling is normal; it gets rid of already damaged skin.

Don’t peel or pop blisters. This slows down healing, and popped blisters are prone to infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin can also help. See a doctor if you have symptoms of sun poisoning, such as dizziness, nausea, rapid heartrate, dehydration, light sensitivity or severe blisters, or if sunburn signs are accompanied by fever or last longer than a few days.