Authored by Revere Health

5 Dangers of Prolonged Sun Exposure

May 2, 2016 | Dermatology

Pulmonology - Diseases of the Lungs: Bronchitis

Are you counting the days until you can turn in your pasty white winter skin for a lovely shade of tan? While we are 100 percent in support of daily doses of fresh air and sunshine, sun exposure is one of those areas in which “too much of a good thing can be dangerous.” Here are five things to be cautiously aware of as you prepare your family for a healthy and safe summer.

1) Short-term skin damage

You can receive a sunburn in less than 15 minutes, although it may not show for another two to six hours. This form of radiation burn comes an overexposure to ultraviolet, or UV, rays. The skin reddening is often accompanied by pain and blistering, and if severe enough, second-degree burns.

2) Long-term skin damage

Even if you don’t burn often, extended exposure to UV rays over a lifetime accelerates the aging of your skin. You may start to see more wrinkles, dryness, sagging and a dull, leathery look. Pigment changes known as “age spots” appear, and your skin bruises more easily. Changes in the skin cells caused by prolonged exposure may lead to skin cancer, the most common of all cancers.

It’s especially important to protect your children from sunburn. Ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of three types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal-cell carcinoma, and squamous-cell carcinoma. However, sunburns that occur in childhood are often cited as posing the greatest risk for developing melanoma later in life. The Skin Cancer Foundation warns:

“Sustaining five or more sunburns in youth increases lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns.”

3) Heat stroke

Heat stroke may begin as heat cramps, fainting or exhaustion, but as it progresses, it can damage the brain and other internal organs, sometimes fatally. While often seen in adults over age 50, healthy young high school or college athletes often succumb to life-threatening heat stroke while performing strenuous workouts in high temperatures.

When combined with dehydration, prolonged exposure to extreme heat causes the body’s temperature control system to fail, resulting in a core body temperature greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Common symptoms of heat stroke include:

Dizziness and light-headedness
Throbbing headache
Nausea and vomiting
Muscle cramps or weakness
Rapid heartbeat and rapid, shallow breathing
Confusion, disorientation, staggering, seizures, loss of consciousness or coma

Call 911 immediately, and keep the person as cool as possible by seeking shade. Remove unnecessary clothing, fan them with air and wet the skin if possible.

4) Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when more water is moving out of our cells and bodies than the amount we take in through drinking. Our body’s fluid levels become unbalanced, and severe dehydration can lead to death. If you notice your urine is dark yellow, it’s a good sign that you may be dehydrated.

Other signs of dehydration include:

Increased thirst, decreased urine output, inability to sweat
Dizziness and weakness
Dry mouth and swollen tongue
Heart palpitations
Fainting, confusion, sluggishness

Encourage dehydrated adults and children to sip small amounts of water, sports drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte. Sucking on ice chips or popsicles is helpful too.

5) Hives

Hives that result from sun exposure are called solar urticaria. These large, itchy red welts can develop within 5 minutes of sun exposure and usually disappear within an hour or two after leaving the sunlight. People with this rare condition also experience headaches, weakness and nausea. This hypersensitivity can be severely disabling and even life threatening. Worldwide, 3.1 per 100,000 people are affected, and females are more likely to be affected than males.

If you’d like more help protecting your family from overexposure to the sun this summer, Revere Health’s Family Medicine providers build long-term, caring relationships with patients and their families. With a strong focus on preventative care and training in a broad range of disciplines including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and geriatrics, we provide individualized care to patients of all ages at 14 Utah locations.

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The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.