Skin Deep: Preventing and coping with summer skin problems… and when to see a healthcare provider

From insect bites and poison ivy to sunburns, the summer months can play havoc on your skin.

“We see a fair amount of skin ailments around this time of the year since people enjoy being outside—especially during the weekends, when they are off work,” said Barbara Baynard, an Advanced Practice Provider for BetterMed Urgent Care Centers. Fortunately, a little prevention can go a long way.

Feeling the burn

As people head outdoors to backyards, pools and beaches, sun safety should be a top concern. Sun damage can result in as little as 15 minutes. Side effects of overexposure can include dehydration, burns and blisters, and, over time, wrinkles, discolorations and skin cancer. According to the CDC, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the U.S., including 71,000 new cases of often-deadly melanoma. To keep sun-safe, try the following:

  • Before you go outside, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 15 that offers both UV and UVB protection. Be sure to apply to any area that will be exposed to the sun.
  • Sunglasses with UV/UVB protection and clothing or coverups can provide extra protection.
  • Wear a broad brimmed hat, and seek cover under an umbrella or other shade when possible.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or exercising.
  • When possible, avoid direct sunlight during the midday hours—especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Avoid tanning booths, which can provide intense exposure to UV rays.

If you’ve overdone it, there are some steps you can take to provide relief while you heal. Aloe vera and cold compresses can provide soothing comfort, while non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can help with inflammation. Be sure to avoid the sun until you are feeling better, drink lots of water to rehydrate and wear loose-fitting clothing. Keep in mind that “the redness is worse 12 to 24 hours after being in the sun and usually fades over 3 days,” said Baynard.

Itchy Business

Many of us remember the poison ivy warning from childhood: “Leaves of three, leave them be.” Learning how to identify and avoid the culprits–poison ivy (most common to our area), oak and sumac—is one of the best ways to prevent the agonizingly itchy rash. Here are some other tips:

  • Wear protective clothing—such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, sock and gloves–when gardening or engaging in other activities which might bring you in contact with these poisonous plants.
  • When camping, make to pitch your tent in an area that is ivy-free.
  • Wash your skin within 30 minutes of exposure. If the rash has already started, washing with products such as Tecnu can help remove the tenacious oils.
  • Clean contaminated items such as clothing promptly, and use great care to protect further spread.
  • Try not to scratch—bacteria from under the fingernails can cause an infection.
  • Calamine lotion can provide soothing relief to the rash.

According to Baynard, “mild cases can last five to 12 days. In severe cases, the rash can last for 30 days or longer.”

Creepy crawlers

As we head outdoors, we may find ourselves in closer contact with spiders, ticks, bees and other insects. Wearing protective clothing, and applying a topical insect repellant can help prevent problems. But if you’ve already been bitten or stung, here’s what to do:

  • Remove any stingers from the wound.
  • Use tweezers to remove ticks..
  • Wash the area with mild soap and water.
  • Apply a cool compress to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Elevate the site of injury.
  • Use topical products with ingredients such as hydrocortisone, pramoxine or lidocaine to provide relief for pain and itching.
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen or an antihistamine can also provide pain relief.
  • Although it is alarming and uncomfortable to experience a bite or sting, most of the signs and symptoms of these injuries should clear up within a day or two.

When to see a healthcare provider

Sunburns: “We see a lot of people with sunburns and symptoms of dehydration,” said Baynard. “You need to be evaluated if you are having a headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, fever and chills or confusion. If you have a severe sunburn with severe pain, blisters, fever or swelling, you should also seek medical attention.”

Poison Ivy: “People present to us when they feel their symptoms are not improving with over the counter treatment. Usually the rash has spread with associated intense pruritus [itching],” said Baynard. “You should seek medical attention if the rash is on your mouth, genitals or around your eyes, or if there is concern the rash is infected, causing significant discomfort, or if there is a great deal of swelling.”

Insect Bites and Stings: “The most common problems we see with bites and stings are local reactions at the site of the bite. We have been seeing an increase in tick bites over the past couple years,” said Baynard. For ticks, keep an eye on any rash, which could present in a bull’s eye pattern, and be a sign of Lyme Disease. For all pests, “you should be evaluated if you develop any increased redness, swelling or drainage at the site.” This can be a sign of infection, which should be evaluated in case antibiotics are necessary.

Additionally, poisonous spiders and centipedes can cause painful and sometimes serious reactions, and stings from flying insects can cause those with allergies to go into anaphylactic shock. “If shortness of breath, chest tightness, hives, swelling, or difficulty swallowing or vomiting develops, the patient should call 911,” said Baynard.

For all your summer skin concerns, the health providers at BetterMed are available 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. With six convenient locations, our facilities have a 98% patient satisfaction rate—the highest among urgent care centers in the Richmond area. BetterMed’s caring health providers can have you evaluated in less than one hour, and on your way to enjoying the rest of your summer.