Sun Exposure & Chronic Illness

Nothing says summer like a day at the beach … or several. The warmth of the sun and the sand beneath our toes is intoxicating. Add the right music … a good friend or two … and it becomes a real treat. So much so, that many of us became “sun worshipers”. And that’s when the problems really started!

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The sun is an excellent source of vitamin D and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t take a tan, or excessive time in the sun, to reap that benefit. For a fair-skinned person, it could take as little as 15 minutes. For darker skin, it takes about 2 hours. 

Often times, we think that tanned skin looks healthy. In reality, when we over-expose our skin to the sun … we do damage. The sun’s ultraviolet light, or UV,  damages the fibers in our skin called elastin. As these fibers break down, our skin begins to sag, stretch, etc. It also bruises more easily and takes longer to heal. A sunburn does even more harm. Research has shown that if you have had five or more blistering sunburns in your life, you have more than doubled your risk of melanoma. In fact, most skin cancers are the result of chronic sun exposure.

When we spend excessive amounts of time in the sun, through work … sports … or tanning … we age our skin. This primarily happens by causing destruction to the collagen. As a result, our damaged skin changes, i.e. wrinkles, leathery and/or rough texture, mottled pigmentation, lentigines or freckle-like spots, sallowness, etc. There’s nothing healthy, sexy, or glamorous about it.

Chronic conditions (think auto-immune) react badly to sun exposure. That’s because they create Photosensitivity, or an allergic reaction to sunlight. Patients with diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus and Scleroderma are at risk when temperatures spike with intense sun.  For others, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis patients, medications carry warnings about sunlight.  

So before you go to the ballpark, or head to the beach, please take the precautions necessary to protect yourself. One sunburn is one too many. And, as we now know, the effects go far beyond the initial pain. Anyone over six months of age should use a sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher). Even those who work outside should use one, daily. Your health depends upon it. But sunscreen alone cannot eliminate your risks. There are additional ways to protect yourself:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.

Exercising prevention steps now can prevent a Chronic illness, i.e. skin cancer, in the future. You and your loved ones are worth it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8881669

https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2215/sunburn

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20377605

https://www.webmd.com/beauty/sun-exposure-skin-cancer#1

https://www.benaroyaresearch.org/blog/post/getting-outside-summer-autoimmune-diseases

https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/chronic-and-acute-effects-of-sun-exposure-on-the-skin

https://www.skincancer.org/prevention

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2475007

https://www.nras.org.uk/photosensitivity

https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/reactions-to-sunlight/chronic-effects-of-sunlight

*Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

 

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Are You Packing?

OMG! It’s June! How did that happen? Time can really fly when you’re busy. And before you know it, vacation is upon you. Most people enjoy traveling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend get-away, or a longer excursion, we are all-in. Eager. Ecstatic. Ready to go. Or are we? If you live with a Chronic illness, a vacation can offer a lot of healthy benefits. But it can also be stressful. To avoid the latter, requires planning. After all, you want to enjoy your vacation!

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By now, you have probably selected a location, i.e. beach, mountains, cruise, etc. No doubt, you have booked your reservations. And if you need to obtain a passport, you’ve most likely taken those steps. So, for a moment, let’s focus on that last month before your departure. If you are traveling abroad, this is a good time to talk to your doctor. You should also discuss your destination, in case specific vaccines and/or medications are needed. Check with your health insurance. Some plans do not cover you abroad. If yours doesn’t, now is the time to buy additional coverage. If you are traveling with oxygen or a CPAP machine, notify the airlines in advance. Some may ask for a letter from your doctor. The TSA can provide more information on their helpline (toll-free at 855-787-2227). They can also give you the details on the screening process, regarding specific disabilities or medical conditions. 

As the days pass, don’t wait until the last minute and stress yourself out. Make a list of things you need to do and check them off, one by one. Are you boarding your pet/s? Confirm that. Confirm your own reservations, i.e. hotel, flight, cruise-line, etc. Think about what you pack. The bikini isn’t your priority item. A Travel Kit is. This kit should include things like over-the-counter meds, prescription meds, your health insurance card, etc. Be sure to pack your kit in carry-on luggage. Nobody needs the hassle of losing their clothes and medications. Your medicines should always be in their actual pill bottles. And if you can, carry copies of your original prescriptions. Pack enough for your trip, plus a couple of days more (just in case there’s a delay). If you don’t regularly wear a Medical Alert bracelet, please add a card that details your medical condition to your kit. In the event of an emergency, it’s a godsend.

Remember the little extras that make managing your condition possible. Do you sometimes need a heating-pad? A neck-pillow? Compression socks? A sweater (even in warm weather)? Make sure to pack these things. You are on vacation. Your chronic illness isn’t. 

Only one week to go. You are almost ready. Stop your mail, if you haven’t already done so. Notify your bank and/or credit card companies that you are traveling. Be sure to make a family-member or friend aware of your itinerary, especially if you are traveling alone.

Finally, it’s time to leave. YEA!!! Vacation has arrived. Enjoy each and every moment. Take your medications as prescribed. Don’t pack too much activity into any single day. Continue to pace yourself. And, by all means, have a safe trip! 

 

Reference Links: 

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/chronic-illnesses

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/traveling-with-chronic-conditions

https://www.americanmedical-id.com/extra/all-medical-id-bracelets.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgpWv793S4gIVzJ6zCh2gwQPPEAAYAiAAEgIfUPD_BwE

Rare Parenting: Traveling with Chronic Illness and Children

*Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash