Summertime in Arizona means more time outdoors in the sun, whether it's hiking, swimming, playing sports or working. Summertime also means the possibility of sun poisoning if you're not protected. Sun poisoning is sneaky. You may not think you're getting too much sun until it's too late.
Jeannine Hinds, MD, an HonorHealth family medicine physician, tells you what you can do to prevent and treat it.
Q. What causes a sunburn?
A: Ultraviolet rays from the sun inflame the skin, which causes the redness and pain of a sunburn.
Q. How quickly can a sunburn occur?
A: The effects of the sun can be visible in as little as 15 minutes, and the damage can continue after you leave the sun.
Q. What is sun poisoning?
A: It's a form of sunburn that can produce symptoms, including skin redness, blistering, swelling, rash, tingling and pain. Sun poisoning is a reaction to the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Some of these symptoms can arise within minutes of being outdoors in the hot Arizona sun.
Q. Are there variations in the types of sun poisoning?
A: Yes. In addition to skin symptoms, sun poisoning can affect your mental state, and that's usually an indication of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms include dizziness, severe headache, dehydration and flu-like signs, such as fever, nausea and achiness.
Q. Is the sun the only reason people get sun poisoning? What about skin conditions and sensitivity due to medications?
A: People with fair skin and light-colored eyes can be more susceptible to sun poisoning. And individuals on antibiotics or medications for acne should be especially cautious about being in the sun. Certain medications can make you more susceptible to sun poisoning.
Q. How can you prevent sun poisoning?
A: Staying out of the sun is the best way to prevent sun poisoning, especially during the time when the sun's ultraviolet rays are most powerful — between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If you must be in the sun during those hours, use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Apply your sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside and then reapply it every two hours. Drink lots of fluids and take frequent breaks in the shade, when possible.
Q. Does clothing protect you from sun poisoning?
A: Yes. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses and your face by wearing a hat. If you don't have sunscreen, wear light-colored clothing with long sleeves. Linen and cotton provide the best sun protection.
Q. What are treatments for sun poisoning?
A: If you have any symptoms of sunburn or sun poisoning, treat your skin first by cooling down. Take a cool — not cold — shower or bath. Drink fluids, especially water. Apply a soothing gel or cream, such as aloe vera, to help cool the skin even more.
Q. When should you see a doctor?
A: Most sun poisoning symptoms can be treated at home, especially if you're hydrated and able to urinate. But if you have any of the symptoms related to your mental state — dizziness, dehydration, headache and nausea — see your doctor or go to the emergency department. And, if you have burns over more than 10% of your body, you should see your doctor.
Q. Are tanning beds safe?
A: No. Tanning beds use UV rays to affect the pigment of the skin and can increase the risk of all types of skin cancer over time, including squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Q. What advice do you have for people who work and play in the Arizona sun?
A: Sun poisoning can happen to anyone and to people of all skin types. If you're going to be outside when the sun is most powerful, protect yourself:
- Use sunscreen and reapply it often. This is especially important for children and the elderly.
- Wear protective clothing and take breaks from the sun if you're out for any length of time.
- If you do get a sunburn, treat it right away at home to lessen the damage.
Keep your skin and other body organs healthy. Find a primary care physician to help you.