When you think of problems related to heat and sun, you probably think of sunburn. But sunburn is only one risk of sun exposure and excessive heat.
This to encourage you to receive better understanding the other sun and heat related conditions you need to know about before you travel to a climate hotter than yours.
You know the excuses. “Tans make me look healthy!”
“Sunbathing is healthy because it makes the skin produce Vitamin D!” Those statements may be true, but the physical cost of tanning is too high a price to pay for these few benefits.
Sunburn is a condition that develops when you are overexposed to
ultraviolet (UV) light. The result is red, painful skin that sometimes becomes swollen and blistered. Severe sunburn can also cause chills, fever, nausea and vomiting. A tan is really your skin’s way
of telling you that you need more protection against UV damage. Tanning does not prevent skin cancer, and even one bad sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. It can take 20 years or more
for that skin cancer to develop. Exposure to UV rays also causes wrinkles, premature skin aging and cataracts. People with fairer skin are more at risk of sunburn.
Atmosphere can also influence your sunburn risk. The risk is raised when you are exposed to the sun in environments that are at a higher altitude and/or closer to the equator that your native land. Remember, light that is reflected off of snow, water and sand can contain UV rays, and UV rays penetrate even the cloudiest skies to reach your skin. Sunburn can happen quicker than you realise.
Take steps to reduce sun-related skin damage, especially with children. Children six months and older need lots of sunscreen, and children under six months should have very limited sun exposure—keep them indoors, or very well-covered when headed outside. Always consult a doctor if sunburn affects a child younger than one year of age.
Mild sunburn can be managed with creams and lotions such as aloe vera gel, and an over-the-counter pain reliever. The skin can also be cooled with cloths dipped in cool water. It is important to keep well hydrated. See a doctor immediately if there are signs of dehydration, a fever, or severe pain and blistering.
Prevent sunburn by:
•Minimising time in the sun, especially when the sun is at its strongest (between 1000 and 1600.)
•Avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps.
•Using sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF)of at least 15. Apply liberally to all exposed body parts. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating and after towelling.
•Using a lip cream with at least SPF 15.
•Covering the body, face and eyes. Use hats and sunglasses with a UV filter.
It is possible to protect yourself from both insects and the sun simultaneously. Apply sunscreen first, followed by insect repellent. Be aware that combined use appears to reduce the efficacy of sunscreen by up to 33%.
Another heat-related condition that may break out when you arrive in a hotter climate than you’re used to is heat rash, also known as prickly heat or miliaria. It occurs when the skin is overheated and is caused by excessive perspiration. The rash looks like tiny bumps surrounded by red skin that itches, stings, or burns. It often occurs on skin covered by clothing. You can alleviate the discomfort by keeping cool, bathing often and using powder or calamine lotion to relieve itching. The condition will often go away by itself. If it doesn’t, or you develop an infection, see a doctor.
Another condition that can strike when in a high-temperature climate is heat exhaustion. Triggered by over-exposure to heat and sun, heat exhaustion leads to salt deficiency and dehydration. The elderly and those who work or exercise in hot environments are most at risk of heat exhaustion. The first symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive sweating and muscle cramps.
Further symptoms include:
•Nausea or vomiting
Heat exhaustion is more serious if the patient develops symptoms of dehydration. These include:
• Dry skin and mouth
• Increased thirst
• Low blood pressure and very fast pulse rate
Call for medical attention. While waiting for help to arrive, allow the victim to lie in a cool, shady place. Encourage the person to sip water (or other cool non-alcoholic beverage) and cool the skin with cool water. Medical attention is especially important if the symptoms are severe or the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure.
To prevent heat exhaustion, avoid long exposure to heat and sun. Drink enough water and wear loose clothing and a hat. Rest immediately if you begin to feel weak or dizzy.
This is a life-threatening emergency. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause heat stroke, which occurs when your body’s cooling mechanism fails and your body temperature rises to dangerous levels. It may rise to 41°C (106° F) or even higher within 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
• Extremely high body temperature (above 40°C or 104°F)
• Hot, red skin
• Nausea or vomiting
• A strong and rapid pulse
• Confusion or unconsciousness
Unlike heat exhaustion, a patient with heat stroke does not sweat. The skin becomes flushed and dry. Telling symptoms are a
severe headache and a lack of coordination, possibly accompanied by confusion and aggression. If victims are not treated, they may become delirious or unconscious and may develop convulsions (seizures). Seek immediate medical attention
to treat heat stroke.
While waiting for help to arrive, take steps to cool the patient. Move them to a cool air-conditioned environment if possible, or at least to a shady area. Loosen any tight clothing. Cool their skin – spray gently with cool water, or wrap in a cool wet sheet and fan to create a breeze. If they can drink, offer cool water.
Heat stroke is a life threatening condition that is preventable:
• Minimise time in the sun, especially when the sun is the strongest.
• If you must go outdoors, seek shade.
• Reduce physical activity as much as is practically possible.
• If possible, use air-conditioning.
• Drink plenty of fluids. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated and sugary drinks.
• Wear loose, cool clothing that covers the body. Natural fibres are often cooler than synthetics.