If you’re like most people, summertime fun means spending time outdoors.
But whether you’re playing in the surf at Gulf Shores, fishing on Smith Lake, lounging around a swimming pool or camping in the woods, remember to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the Alabama sun.
As a physician, I’ve seen lots of patients with premature wrinkling, sun spots and skin cancer due to sunburn.
In our climate, it doesn’t take long for the sun to leave its mark on unprotected skin. The symptoms of sunburn usually start within about four hours of exposure. Depending on how long you were outside without sunscreen, symptoms may include:
• Red, warm, tender skin
• Swollen skin
The symptoms usually peak in severity within 24-36 hours of sun exposure before gradually subsiding. One of the most noticeable after-effects of sunburn – peeling skin – typically starts between three and eight days of exposure.
Did you know eyes can also get sunburned? If your eyes become red, dry, painful and gritty feeling after coming in from the sun, that’s likely the cause. People whose eyes are sunburned repeatedly face an increased risk of all sorts of health problems including cataracts and macular degeneration.
There is no quick and easy cure for minor sunburn. I advise my patients to drink plenty of water and apply a topical moisturizing cream such as aloe or 1 percent hydrocortisone to the burned areas. Cool baths, aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and cool, wet cloths can also provide some welcome relief.
If your skin starts to blister, you should lightly cover the area with sterile gauze to try to keep the blisters from popping and prevent infection. An antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may also be helpful.
If you’ve really cooked your skin, you may need to go see a doctor. Seek medical attention if you have severe sunburn covering more than 15 percent of your body, if you have a fever above 101 degrees, extreme pain lasting longer than 48 hours or signs of dehydration.
Of course, you can avoid all the pain and discomfort of sunburn by taking just a few moments to put on sunscreen. I recommend using a lotion or spray rated SPF 30 or higher. Apply it liberally to your face, neck, shoulders, arms, legs and any other parts that will be exposed to the sun.
Dr. Pragya Katoch is a board certified internal medicine physician providing care for patients at Physicians Care Madison.