By Nora Heston Tarte
With an average high temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July, it’s important for Arizonians to watch their backs – and their fronts – when it comes to sun safety. There were 65,647 people in the United States diagnosed with melanomas of the skin in 2011, according to the CDC, and 9,128 people who died from the disease the same year. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the country. The good news is, you can protect your family from ultraviolet (UV) rays and sun damage, as well as eye damage that occurs from sunlight, with a few simple steps.
UV rays aren’t just harmful to your skin, they can cause damage to eyes, as well. Wearing sunglasses outdoors will help protect your eyes and the surrounding skin from dangerous rays. Those with fair skin and blue or green eyes should take extra caution, as they are at higher risk of sun damage.
Not just any pair of drugstore sunglasses will do. “It is highly recommended to choose sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UV-A and UV-B rays,” says Dr. Donald E. Jarnagin, O.D., dean of Midwestern University, Arizona College of Optometry. “Wraparound sunglasses or large lenses provide better protection, or those that have the seal of acceptance from the American Optometric Association.” While sun is the main concern during summer months, popular summertime activities also raise concern.
“Chlorinated pools can cause red and irritated eyes especially with long exposure,” Dr. Jarnagin says. He recommends the use of swim goggles as well as flushing the eyes with cool, fresh water after swim time. Artificial tears or saline solution can be used to restore proper tear film if the eyes become blurry or hazy after long stretches in the pool. The good news is that pool water cannot cause any permanent damage, he says.
The case may be different for those who wear contact lenses. The safest method is to remove contact lenses before swimming or switch to daily disposable contact lenses that can be used and discarded after swimming. In addition to removing contact lenses after swimming, it is important to rinse with optometrist-recommended solutions.
“Pool water can change the way the contact lenses fit on the eye and possibly cause some eye damage,” Dr. Jarnagin warns.
Sunscreen may seem like a no brainer, but in a Consumer Reports National Research Center survey in 2009, 31 percent of participants copped to not wearing sunscreen while the other 69 percent classified themselves as occasional users.
“As Arizonans, we are exposed to our bright sun almost year round, so our precautions need to be used daily,” Dr. Allison Kaplan, M.D., a family doctor with Desert Grove Family Medical, says of sunscreen use and other skin-protecting habits like covering your body with clothing and a hat and avoiding the sun’s rays in the late afternoon when they are the most harmful.
While skin cancer is of concern, there are other sun-related ailments that are more common, and tend to occur more frequently if proper precautions are not taken. “The most common complication that most of us are familiar with are sunburns,” says Dr. Kaplan. “These burns are painful and cause our skin to heat up, and possibly blister or peel.”
Another major concern is sun poisoning, which manifests as fatigue, dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, headache and sometimes fever or confusion. Dr. Kaplan recommends treating severe symptoms by seeking medical attention quickly.
“Long term, sun exposure does increase your risk for skin cancer,” she adds.
Extreme heat and extended sun-exposure can result in dehydration, an often mild but potentially dangerous ailment.
“Dehydration can occur in anyone who is not staying hydrated while outdoors, but our children may not show these signs or be able to communicate to us when they are having a problem,” Dr. Kaplan explains. “If your child is complaining about a headache, dizziness and nausea or is not behaving normally, then they may be dehydrated and will need to seek medical attention.”
While parents are often focused on the dangers of sun to a child’s skin, they may overlook other dangerous factors of extreme heat. With daily temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout much of Arizona, it’s important to take several precautions.
Cars heat up quickly. Not only is it dangerous to leave your child, or pet, unattended in the car, other dangers can lurk even in your presence.
“Even after a few minutes, the temperate [in a car] can elevate to dangerous levels in our summer heat that can be life-threatening,” Dr. Kaplan warns, urging no parent to leave their child in the car alone even if they roll down the windows.
Another concern is how heat affects the items in your car. Black or dark-colored fabrics on seats or car seats can heat up quickly while metal on seatbelts can burn fingers, legs and any other body part with which it comes into contact.
While the cloth is likely uncomfortable, the metal seatbelt is more of a concern. Metals tend to heat up faster because they are conductors, but mostly they just feel hotter.
To combat this problem, try draping a blanket or towel over the buckles and seats to help keep them cool. On hotter days, that likely won’t be enough. You can, however, hold a cool, damp towel against the buckle for several minutes to reduce the sting of touching it, or turn on your car 10 minutes before climbing in and blasting the AC. Not only will the latter cool your buckles, it’ll make the climate inside of the car more desirable overall. When you have the option, park inside of a garage or in the shade to further reduce the risk of burns.
For car seats, several come with a cloth piece that keeps the metal part from ever touching your child. Reattaching the buckle when not in use can help protect the metal from heating up too much. If your car seat doesn’t have this feature, or your child threw the mysterious object out of a window while you were driving (it happens), after-market options can be purchased.
Tips For Toddlers and Infants:
Many of the same rules apply for the youngest members of your brood, but that doesn’t make clothing a 2 year old any easier. Use these expert tips, provided by Dr. Jarnagin and Dr. Kaplan, to protect your littlest ones from the heat and sun.
- With sunglasses, start early and utilize pairs with straps.
- Use brimmed hats to reduce sun exposure and allow for extra protection when sunscreen isn’t recommended (i.e. typically when children are under 6 months old).
- Avoid exposure to the direct sun’s rays.
- If you can’t avoid spending time outside, then use a hat, light clothes that cover the skin and an umbrella for shade.
- Offer fluids anytime you are spending time outdoors.