Over the counter: Sunscreen, Lyme disease and poison ivy
As we spend more time outdoors in the warmer months, we need to be mindful that it has risks.
Overexposure to the sun can damage the skin and even cause skin cancer; contact with ticks can lead to Lyme disease; and rubbing against poison ivy or items that have been in contact with the plant can result in a painful, itching and blistering rash.
Have fun outdoors, but make sure you take precautions and the proper actions to protect yourself first.
One fundamental precaution is to wear sunscreen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “The sun's UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Put on sunscreen before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Don't forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.”
A recent Wall Street Journal story on the importance of sunscreen carried a helpfully instructive title, “The Push for Daily Sunscreen.” Readers of the story learned that, every day, they should apply a shot-glass-full of sunscreen to skin that will be exposed.
Contained in the story is this information about how many people are unaware concerning sun protection factor, or SPF:
“… a product's SPF indicates only its ability to defend against sunburn-causing ultraviolet-B rays — and not against ultraviolet-A, which penetrate deeper into the skin and cause premature aging. (Both types contribute to skin cancer.) For example, a person wearing SPF 50 could spend considerable time in the sun without getting burned. ‘They think they're getting protected but they're getting the silent damage from UVA,’ says Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatological surgery and dermatology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center site in Basking Ridge, N.J.”
The Food and Drug Administration will help consumers select sunscreen starting on June 18, according to the article, when they will require sun protection products to undergo more expansive testing and to have labeling that is clearer and easier to understand.
Into the woods
During the warmer and longer days, we get out more in the sun and along paths and through the woods and fields. Paths and woods and fields are where people come in contact with black-legged ticks (also called deer ticks) that transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Lyme disease symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache and a skin rash. It responds well to antibiotics yet, if left untreated, it can result in serious health problems, including infection of the joints, heart and nervous system. Because of the general malaise that afflicts a person with Lyme disease, the disease is sometimes misdiagnosed as depression.
In order to avoid Lyme disease, it’s crucial to be vigilant. When you are in the woods and in contact with tall grass, always wear socks and shoes or sneakers, and either wear long pants with a strap around the bottom of each pant leg or hiking shorts or Bermuda-style shorts with knee-high socks.
After you have been outdoors, do a thorough body inspection. And if you do find a tick, it is not necessarily a cause for immediate concern. It can be easily removed, and it takes 36 to 48 hours or more after a tick attaches itself to a host for it to transmit the Lyme disease-causing bacterium.
Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove the tick, and make sure you get all of it. It is also important to inspect pets that spend time outdoors. They can bring ticks into the home. Washing clothes thoroughly in hot water and detergent will help prevent ticks from spreading the disease.
Anyone who has had a poison ivy rash remembers the experience –– and not fondly.
Poison ivy –– more specifically, the sticky oil substance that the plant produces –– can render an immensely painful rash. The best way to avoid poison ivy is to know what it looks like so you can stay away from it.
It is smart to search the Internet and familiarize yourself with the appearance of the plant, which does have a varied appearance. It always has leaves of three, but those leaves can be green and shiny, green and dull or just red. Poison ivy grows on a vine on the ground and sometimes up a tree, and it can even sprout into a shrub.
Even if the plant is dead, the vine can still contain the irritating oil, which is called urishiol.
Some people are immune to catching a case of poison ivy, but this immunity is not necessarily a constant. Some people have immunity to poison ivy, and then it goes away. Other people do not have immunity, and then they acquire it.
Once urishiol touches the skin, it takes only about 10 minutes for it to start a rash, so you have to move fast if you have a hope of warding off its effects. The recommended treatment is to first swab the skin with rubbing alcohol, and then wash it with warm water and no soap (soap can move the urishiol around). After this, take a hot shower and wash with soap.
If you are unfortunate enough to get a poison ivy rash, there are wonderful natural and homeopathic remedies that have a strong track record of bringing relief.
Summer is meant to be enjoyed. With a little planning and remaining aware, we can stay safe and protect ourselves as we enjoy the weather and outdoors and have fun.
Steve Bernardi is a registered compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff is a naturopathic doctor at Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center in Waltham, Mass. (www.naturalcompounder.com) Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can email firstname.lastname@example.org.