Sunlight can help our mental outlook and help us feel
healthier. For people who have arthritis, the sun's warmth can help relieve some of
their physical pain. Many people also think that a
suntan makes a person look young and healthy. But
sunlight can be harmful to the skin, causing immediate problems as well as
problems that may develop years later.
sunburn is skin damage from the sun's
ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain
and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin (first-degree burn). The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are
mild and can usually be treated at home.
Skin that is red and
painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and
nerve endings have been damaged (second-degree burn). This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to
Other problems that can be present along with sunburn
Long-term problems include:
- An increased chance of having
- An increase in the number of
- An increase in problems
related to a health condition, such as
- Cataracts, from
not protecting your eyes from direct or indirect sunlight over many years.
Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness.
- Skin changes, such as premature wrinkling or brown spots.
skin type affects how easily you become sunburned.
People with fair or freckled skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes usually
sunburn easily. Your age also affects how your skin reacts to the sun. The skin
of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to
You may get a more severe sunburn depending on:
- The time of day. You are more likely to get a
sunburn between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun's rays
are the strongest. You might think the chance of getting a sunburn on cloudy
days is less, but the sun's damaging UV light can pass through
- Whether you are near reflective surfaces, such as water,
white sand, concrete, snow, and ice. All of these reflect the sun's rays and
can cause sunburns.
- The season of the year. The position of the sun
on summer days can cause a more severe sunburn.
- Altitude. It is
easy to get sunburned at higher altitudes, because there is less of the earth's
atmosphere to block the sunlight. UV exposure increases about 4% for every
1000 ft (305 m) gain in
- How close you are
to the equator (latitude). The closer you are to the equator, the more direct
sunlight passes through the atmosphere. For example, the southern United States
gets 1.5 times more sunlight than the northern United States.
UV index of the day, which shows the risk of
getting a sunburn that day.
Preventive measures and home treatment are usually all that is
needed to prevent or treat a sunburn.
- Protect your skin from the sun.
not stay in the sun too long.
- Use sunscreens, and wear clothing
that covers your skin.
If you have any
health risks that may increase the seriousness of sun
exposure, you should avoid being in the sun from 10 in the morning to 4 in the
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
November 16, 2012
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