Health risk from sun avoidable

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By LIZ KING

Daily Press Writer

As the weather continues to hang in the high 90s, it is not hard to develop problems associated with being in the sun, according to several healthcare professionals in Moffat County, although they disagree on how often these problems occur.

"I don't see it (heat- and sun-related problems) unless it has been a prolonged hot, dry spell or at a special event," said Dr. Andre Huffmire at The Memorial Hospital.

However, Dr. Joel Miller of the Craig Medical Center said he sees at least one case of severe sunburn, heat exhaustion or skin cancer everyday during the summer. But, despite disagreements on the frequency of such problems, both agree that problems can be easily avoided by taking the proper precautions.

Severe sunburn

Someone experiencing this problem will know because skin will show redness and the patient will experience pain, possibly swelling, blisters, fever and headaches.

This problem is easy to avoid by applying sunscreen.

People need to put sunscreen on every day, at least SPF 15 through 25. If someone buys SPF 15 that means that in 15 hours of being outside, the person wearing the sunscreen will receive the same amount of effects from the sun as if he or she had been outside one hour without sunscreen.

"If someone receives two blistering sun burns in the same place, they will develop some type of skin cancer, though it might not show up until 20 to 40 years later," Huffmire said.

Many people who get sunburned often suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke as well.

"We have a lot of younger people that come in with problems," said Jacqeline Harry, a medical assistant at the Moffat Family Clinic. "I don't think they realize how serious being in the sun can be."

Heat exhaustion, heat stroke

Heat exhaustion and heat stoke are problems caused by prolonged exposure to the sun. Heat exhaustion occurs when a person becomes dehydrated and heat stroke occurs when the body goes into a state of shock because of dehydration and elevated temperatures. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale and clammy skin, weak pulse, fainting and vomiting.

Heat stroke symptoms include high body temperature, hot, dry skin, rapid, strong pulse and possible unconsciousness.

Staying in the shade is ideal to prevent this problem but if going out into the direct sun is necessary, there are other steps that can be taken to avoid the effects of heat exhaustion, which is caused by excessive exposure to sun in elevated temperatures.

"People need to drink several quarts of liquids a day," said Huffmire, qualifying that this is while a person is in the sun during the summer. If they are exercising, Huffmire recommends up to a gallon. The liquid also needs to contain electrolytes, which are lost during exercise that are vital to the body.

"Drink plenty of fluids, Gatorade or anything without sugar, do not drink caffeine it will dehydrate your body even more," Harry said, adding that once the body cools down, a person suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke will probably be sick for a while.

Skin cancer

Early stages of this disease are usually characterized by irregularly shaped or colored moles or patches of skin.

The easiest way to prevent any form of skin cancer before it starts is to use sunscreen and wear a hat and shirt while in the sun, according to Huffmire. She said it is important to use protection on areas people do not normally think of such as ears and lips and to protect eyes from harmful effects of the sun by wearing sunglasses.

"One of the first questions that we ask in our physical is, 'Do you use sunscreen?'" Harry said. "We give people information about how to examine their skin for cancer, such as changes in moles. It is the same as a breast exam."

"There are a lot of old farmers and ranchers with tons of skin cancers," Miller said. "It (skin cancer) is like an epidemic, it just needs to be treated otherwise these things just eat away at you."

Liz King is an intern with the Craig Daily Press. She can be reached at 824-7031 or eking@craigdailypress.com.

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