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House Calls: Preventing and treating sunburn

Have you ever been out in the sun and ended up looking like a lobster? Instead of that golden tan you were looking for, you come out with a painful red burn. More than one-third of adults and nearly 70 percent of children have gotten a sunburn within the past year.

When your skin is exposed to the sun for a prolonged period of time, eventually it burns. The sun gives offs three wavelengths of ultraviolet light. They are UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC doesn’t reach the earth. The other two penetrate the skin causing damage. A sunburn is the most obvious example of sun damage. It can also alter your skin and cause premature aging. Over time, damage can cause melanoma, which is a deadly form of skin cancer.

Things that determine how soon you get a sunburn are skin type, the sun’s intensity and how long you are exposed to the sun. When you get a sunburn it turn red and hurts. If it is severe, you may develop blisters with the redness. You may even feel like you have the flu and develop symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea and headaches. After a few days you may peel.

Sunburn relief is aimed at reducing redness and helping with pain. Cold compresses or a cool bath may help. Creams with menthol, camphor or aloe may soothe the skin. Putting them in the refrigerator before use may maximize the comfort. Ibuprofen and Tylenol may also help reduce the amount of pain from the burn. Drink plenty of water and avoid any more sun until the sunburn has improved.

Prevention is always the best method when keeping your skin safe. The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so avoid these times if at all possible. Wear sun protective clothes such as a hat, long sleeved shirts and pants, and UV blocking sunglasses. Always cover exposed skin with sunscreen. The sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater. Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. Stay in the shade if you are outside.

Consult your physician if you develop fever above 102, have severe pain from the burn, if blisters cover more than 20 percent of your body, or if you are concerned that you may be dehydrated.

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