How many times have you walked outside after eight hours in a freezing office and just stood in the sunlight for a few minutes? Although the rays literally thawed your bones, time in the sun can be tricky: Sunshine is a key to life, but not enough—or too much—can do more harm than good. It’s a critical component in the production of vitamin D, which helps keep our bones healthy and strong. It also helps to lift our moods and energy levels. On the other hand, not enough sunlight can contribute to osteoporosis (bone disease), “winter blues,” and seasonal affective disorder (a form of depression).

Excessive exposure to the sun and extreme heat can lead to sunburn, skin cancer, and heat-related illnesses such as heat rash (also called prickly heat) and heat cramps. Let’s take a look at the causes and treatment for three serious sun-related conditions:

CONDITION SYMPTOMS TREATMENT
Sunburn
(extreme sunburn is also called “sun poisoning”)1
  • Bright red skin**
  • Blistering or rash**
  • Pain*
  • Swelling of the affected area***
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, headache, nausea)***

**These symptoms are similar to sunburn
***These symptoms may appear after a day or more

  • Get out of the sun
  • Take a cool shower or apply cool compresses to help relieve pain and reduce skin temperature
  • Apply aloe vera gel or other topical ointment to soothe the skin
  • Treat pain with an appropriate over-the-counter pain reliever
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • If a blister covers a large area, seek medical attention immediately
Heat exhaustion
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Weak, rapid pulse
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Headache
  • Heavy sweating
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Move to a cool place
  • Loosen clothing
  • Apply cool, wet cloths or take a cool bath
  • Sip water
  • If vomiting occurs or symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour, seek medical attention immediately
Heat stroke
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  • High body temperature (103° Fahrenheit* or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea

*All temperatures are listed in degrees Fahrenheit

Call 911 immediately—heat stroke is a medical emergency

  • Move the person to a cooler place
  • Help lower body temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath
  • Don’t give the person anything to drink

Prevention

In addition to the treatment guidelines listed above, here are a few general tips to help you protect yourself and your family from the sun and stay safe when you must go outside in the heat:2

  • Pay attention to heat outlooks, watches, and warnings issued by the National Weather Service. These alerts are based on the number of consecutive days that the air temperature will be extremely high (above 104° during the day or 75° at night).
  • Avoid being outdoors on days when temperature alerts have been issued. Reschedule daytime activities for early in the morning or later toward dusk.
  • If you must go outside, drink plenty of water, avoid beverages that contain alcohol or caffeine (which can dehydrate you), and shade yourself from the sun with protective headwear, eyewear, and lightweight clothing.
  • When the temperature soars, race to the air conditioning. Be sure that family, friends, and neighbors are cool as well. If necessary, go to a movie theater or local shopping mall to avoid the heat. Many cities offer free room fans for elderly residents. Pay special attention to infants, children, and pets’ needs too.
  • For more ways to help protect you and your family from sun-related illnesses and conditions, download and save these flyers from the Centers for Disease Control: Beat the Heat and Heat-Related Illnesses.
  • Remember that Teladoc can diagnose and treat a wide variety of non-emergency conditions such as heat rash, cramps, fever, and much more. Our board-certified physicians are available 24/7 anywhere you are. Use the app any time to request a visit. In the meantime, stay cool!

Sources

1https://www.health.com/skin-cancer/sun-poisoning-symptoms-treatment
2https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/infographics/beattheheat.htm

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