Playing With Fire: The Dangers Of Sunburn
Nothing is quite so relaxing as lying outside on a sunny day and watching the clouds drift by. While this might be pleasant for the mind, the skin takes exception. That warm sun is working its way slowly but inexorably into the skin and starting a process that will only worsen over the years. We often cannot see the damage that it causes, especially to those who don’t burn easily. But what is happening underneath your skin can be more damaging than we realize. To put it bluntly, getting sunburned is not something to laugh about.
The Sun and Cancer
It may be of no surprise to you that the sun and skin cancer go hand in hand.
But did you know that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer?
And that in the U.S. alone, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year? Of the three main types of skin cancer, melanoma is the deadliest. It only takes getting sunburned five times as a child to increase the risk of developing melanoma by 80 percent. The other two types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma — are both associated with sunburn and sun exposure. Melanoma requires diagnosis by a medical professional and treatment often involves surgery, radiation, medication- or in other cases, chemotherapy.
Avoidance and Vigilance
To prevent sunburn, avoid being out in the sun when possible and use sunscreen and prescription sunglasses when sun exposure is unavoidable. If you have a history of getting sunburned and a mole appears, don’t panic. Learn the ABC’s of skin cancer. Checking moles for asymmetry, border irregularities, color, diameter, and evolution can not only help spot skin cancers early, but can even alert you about potential pre-cancers like actinic keratoses.
Sunburn and the Immune System
Ordinarily the body attacks perceived dangers to prevent illnesses. During sun exposure, however, the body does not recognize the burn as a threat and actually reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. This can lead to a myriad of non-skin illnesses such as internal cancer, chronic infections and breakouts of Herpes simplex.
Keep an Eye Out
Sunburn can be pretty obvious when it occurs on the skin, but the eye can also become sunburned. Symptoms include watering, a gritty feeling, or the sensation that there is something stuck in the eye. Prolonged unprotected sun exposure to the eyes can lead to cataracts, retinal damage and macular degeneration. These potential vision problems highlight the need for prescription sunglasses and hats that provide good shading for the eyes.
Go With a Pro
If a mole appears and you have a long history of getting sunburned, try to avoid self-diagnosis. If the ABC’s mentioned earlier point to an abnormality, see a doctor. Avoid picking at or scratching the mole and make sure to get to a doctor immediately if melanoma is suspected.
Can Sun Damage Be Predicted?
It would be great if there was some sort of measuring device that alerted the user that too much time is being spent in the sun. Unfortunately, no such device currently exists. There are genetic tests that help in predicting the potential risk a person has of developing skin cancer. Outside of genetic testing, certain skin types are more susceptible to the sun than others. A red-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned individual has the highest risk for sunburn/skin cancer, while people with darker skin pigments have the lowest risk.
As you look back at the consequences of getting sunburned and the damage it can cause, you might start to think twice about putting on some sunscreen or a hat. Making sure you know the signs can not only save you financially later down the road, but paying attention to your skin will help you to maintain a more healthy and youthful look.
Featured photo credit: Untitled/Maggie Brauer via flic.kr