Summer Sun – not always fun!
We all need sunshine in our lives and every day it lifts our spirits. The sun brings out the smile in many of us that has been hidden for long winter months. It is heart-warming to enjoy the long evenings, even if the kids won’t go to bed! The sun brings many benefits to us psychologically and physically but alongside the good weather some of us can encounter some unwanted side effects. Today I will detail a few conditions that might affect us in an unwanted way when the sun appears.
Prickly heat, also known as miliaria, is an itchy rash of small, raised red spots that causes a stinging or prickling sensation on the skin. The rash can develop anywhere on the body, but it most commonly occurs on your face, neck, back, chest and thighs. The rash is made up of tiny spots or bumps that are surrounded by an area of red skin. The spots sometimes look like tiny blisters. They can cause mild swelling, itching and a stinging or intense prickling sensation. The rash usually appears a few days after exposure to hot temperatures. Occasionally, the symptoms of prickly heat do not appear for several weeks or months.
The rash can affect any part of your body but it most commonly develops on your:
However, it can also sometimes occur on your:
The symptoms of prickly heat are usually worse in areas that are covered by clothing. This is because clothing can make you sweat and sometimes causes friction (rubbing).
What causes prickly heat?
Prickly heat usually develops when a person sweats more than usual, such as during hot or humid weather. However, it is also possible to get prickly heat in the winter!! The condition is caused when the body’s sweat glands become blocked. Excessive sweating can result in sweat becoming trapped beneath your skin. If you sweat excessively, it is easier for dead skin cells and bacteria to collect in your sweat glands. If your sweat glands become blocked, sweat will be trapped underneath your skin in tiny swollen pockets. It will also seep into the nearby tissue and irritate your skin. When the pockets burst and release sweat, it causes a stinging and prickling sensation (prickly heat).
You are more at risk of developing prickly heat if you’re in a hot climate where you sweat more than usual. The following also increase your risk:
illness and immobility – long periods of time spent in bed can make you sweat more, particularly if you have warm bedding
wearing too much clothing, particularly in the winter
sitting too close to a fire or heater
Anyone can get prickly heat but people who are overweight or obese are more likely to be affected. This is because they tend to sweat more than people who are slimmer. Babies and children are also more at risk of getting prickly heat because their sweat glands are not fully developed. Prickly heat is not a serious condition and rarely requires specific treatment. The rash usually disappears after a few days. However, if you have prickly heat, there are several things you can do to ease your symptoms:
Avoid excessive heat and humidity – if you need to go outside, spend time in the shade or take a small fan with you. Further exposure to the heat will cause you to sweat more and may make your rash worse.
Wear loose cotton clothing – avoid wearing synthetic fibres, such as polyester and nylon, which trap heat more easily than natural fibres.
Keep your skin cool – a cool bath or shower will cool you down, soothe your skin and help prevent further sweating. Staying in an air-conditioned room for a few hours a day will also provide considerable relief.
Use calamine lotion or other lotions recommended by your pharmacist for sensitive skin – these are available at Grants pharmacies and will help soothe sore and irritated skin. Epaderm is one of my favourites.
Try hydrocortisone cream – low-strength hydrocortisone cream is also available from Grants pharmacy and is effective at treating very itchy and irritated areas of skin. However, avoid using it on your face and always follow the instructions. An anti-histamine is useful too if you would like to ease the itching. Try Cetrine as an affordable generic brand, or piriton if sleeping at night is a challenge with the itch. Ask your Pharmacist in Grants for advice.
While enjoying the sun, remember to protect your skin and always keep hydrated. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers, and too much sun can increase your risk. Exposure to sunlight can also affect your eyes. Skin cancers are caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Protecting the skin from the sun can help prevent these cancers.
How does the sun damage skin?
UV rays penetrate deep into the skin and damage cells. These cells are then at risk of becoming cancerous. You can’t feel UV damaging your skin and it happens even when the sun doesn’t feel hot.
Getting sunburnt causes the top layers of skin to release chemicals that make blood vessels swell and leak fluids. Skin turns red and feels hot and painful, and severe sunburn can lead to swelling and blisters. Sunburn is dangerous at any age, but it’s especially harmful in children and young people. Sunburn in childhood can greatly increase their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. After you’ve been sunburnt, the skin peels to get rid of damaged cells. Eventually, it will heal and look healthy, but permanent damage may have been done. Some experts believe that just one episode of blistering sunburn before the age of 20 can double your chance of getting malignant melanoma.
Skin cancer can affect anyone, but those people most at risk have:
fair skin that burns in strong sun
red or fair hair
a lot of moles or freckles
a personal or family history of skin cancer
already had sunburn, especially when young
People with naturally brown or black skin are less likely to get skin cancer as darker skin has some protection against UV rays. However, skin cancer can still occur. It’s important to keep an eye on any moles or freckles you have. If they change at all (for example, if they get bigger or bleed), see your Pharmacist or GP as this can be an early sign of cancer. The earlier skin cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat, so see your GP as soon as possible.
Sun damage doesn’t just happen when you’re on holiday in the sun. It can happen when you’re not expecting it, for example when you go for a walk or sit in your garden. There are SMART ways to protect yourself.
Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
Make sure you never burn.
Aim to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
Remember to take extra care with children.
Then use factor 15+ sunscreen.
Report mole changes or unusual skin growths to your GP.
Always take special care of children’s skin. The best way to do this is to cover them up and keep them in the shade during mid afternoon sunshine. Using high factor sun block especially formulated for children’s skin is equally important especially while swimming. Ask any staff member at Grant’s Pharmacy and they will advise you on the best sun block for you and your family – my favourite is the La Roche Posay Spray SPF50 for kids – it brilliant for wriggling kids who detest sunblock – although it is cold on application!
Leonie, Janet or any Pharmacist in Grant’s Pharmacy can tell you more about the products used for prickly heat or sun protection. Every Grant’s Pharmacy has a private consultation room where you can discuss any personal ailments discreetly and without embarrassment. Pop in and experience a fast, friendly and informed service. We will be happy to advise you on your best course of treatment. Grant’s Pharmacy is located in Wexford town, in Enniscorthy town (Duffry and Rafter St), in Arklow town – all beside Pettitts SuperValu and in Gorey town opposite the GPO. Find us on Facebook.
Enjoy every minute of the sunshine this Summer in a safe and careful manner. The winter will come quick enough!