Monday, June 4, 2012

Escaping the Heat in the Mountains?

For those families headed to the mountains to escape the heat this summer, remember that mixed in with those gorgeous views and cool weather might come a couple medical challenges. First of all, don't be fooled that cool weather means no sunburns! Check out this month's blogs on base tanning & sunscreen so you don't end up with a high altitude burn. Secondly, be aware of signs and symptoms of "mountain sickness" (aka. altitude sickness).

What elevation causes altitude sickness?
There is not a set elevation for typical mountain vacations that affects everyone. Symptoms are uncommon at altitudes below 5000 feet above sea level, and fairly common above 8000 feet. If you fly to a higher elevation (such as above 8000 feet), wait a day to acclimate before you start hiking the high peaks nearby.

When does it start?
Symptoms usually within the first 24 hours, and often as early as the first few hours after arrival.

What are the common signs?
  • Mild to moderate: HEADACHE, decreased appetite or nausea, insomnia, and lightheadedness
  • Severe:  All of the above plus vomiting and shortness of breath

Ultimately, going to a lower elevation will relieve symptoms, but rest and hydration will alleviate most mild symptoms. For persistent or worsening symptoms, head to a clinic for possible oxygen and medications.

  • Hydration and avoidance of diuretics like CAFFEINE and ALCOHOL, especially the first few days.
  • SLOW ASCENT if possible (driving up to the mountains is lower risk than flying).
  • If you have had altitude sickness previously, especially if it has occurred on multiple trips to the same elevation, see your doctor and consider prophylactic medications (acetazolamide or steroids).

BOTTOM LINE: Don't let the mountains literally take your breath away- plan ahead to prevent altitude sickness!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Which Sunscreen Works Best?

With summertime here, let's review the basics about sunscreens. There are so many sunscreen products available that it often feels impossible to choose which type of sunscreen to purchase. I know most kids (& parents) prefer the sprays, because it makes the process so much faster. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a sunscreen with all the ingredients that I look for to ensure the best protection.

Let's start with SPF. What does it mean? Sun Protection Factor is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to protect the wearer against UV radiation from UVB. Note that the sun produces both UVA and UVB, and BOTH cause damage that can lead to skin cancers. Right now, though, the SPF only addresses the UVB protection. So, SPF means that compared to bare skin, the sunscreen keeps you from burning X times longer. If it takes you a half hour to turn red with bare skin, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 should in theory keep you from burning 30 times longer, which would be 900 minutes- 15 hours. Unfortunately, no sunscreen stays fully effective beyond two hours without re-application. Additionally, sunscreens with an SPF of 15 block roughly 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 ~ 97%, and SPF 50 is 98%. Therefore, even with perfect application, no sunscreen blocks all UVB rays, and many block no UVA rays.

How much should you use to be effective? You might be surprised to hear that it takes about an OUNCE (picture a shot glass), and that same amount should be reapplied every two hours. This means you will use roughly half of an 8 ounce bottle on ONE PERSON during a full day outdoors!

Which ingredients are important? Most dermatologists recommend combining the physical barrier ingredients that protect against the deep penetrating UVA rays, such as ZINC OXIDE & TITANIUM DIOXIDE (the ones that leave the white residue) along with the chemical barrier agents known to block UVBs, such as PABA, salicylates, cinnamates and benzophenones. Since nearly all sunscreens contain mixes of the chemical barriers, I grab a tube or bottle and scan to be sure it also lists either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as well. Note that some people are sensitive to PABA or other ingredients, and may do best with purely barrier sunscreens and clothing (such as surf shirts.)

Back to the sprays...for me, there is not an acceptable spray yet, for several reasons. Primarily, there are few with either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and those that do are very expensive and have these minerals broken down into "nanoparticles" to allow them to be in a light enough liquid to spray. There is some debate whether these nano-sized minerals can potentially cause cancer, which is of course, the opposite of our intent. Regardless of these issues, probably the biggest issue with sprays is that people use minute portions- picture that less than 10 second total body spray- and so they are not obtaining anywhere near the listed SPF.

What do I buy? Our family typically uses Banana Boat's "Baby" lotion. To it's credit, my kids complain that their skin is "way too white" because I never let them tan. I take that as a measure of success! Probably more importantly, we all use swim shirts, and most of us consistently wear hats and sunglasses.

BOTTOM LINE: Get a sunscreen that contains both chemical and barrier agents (think titanium dioxide) and realize an 8 oz tube should be used up by a family of four in ONE morning OR afternoon since each person needs ONE OZ every TWO HOURS.

PS. NO, I do not have any financial ties to sunscreen makers!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Got Your "Base Tan" for Summer?

Hooray! School is out (at least in Texas) and summertime is here. Before your teen convinces you she must head to a tanning booth to get that "base tan" before your family's beach vacation, be aware of this- the notion of a "base tan" has no scientific basis, nor support from dermatologists. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AADA) testified last year at FDA hearings about the risks of indoor tanning. These devices have shared the same low risk category as bandaids and tongue depressors, yet we have had medical evidence for years that they clearly cause skin cancers.

Melanoma rates are increasing across the board, and melanoma is now the number one cancer in young people aged 25-29, and the second most common cancer in 15-29 year olds. Use of a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by a whopping 75%! I can personally attest in my own practice that I have diagnosed multiple cases of melanoma in the last couple years, primarily in people younger than I am- which really hits home. (I'm 46.) Having lost a friend to melanoma many years ago, I am very aware that skin cancers are not simply cosmetic nuisances.

Tanning beds are not "safe", and they target young people (especially women) with their ads. Many tanning salons promote their "safe" or "harmless" type of UV radiation, but the UVA rays cause damage in the same fashion as UVB rays- only a bit more slowly and more deeply.

The American Academy of Dermatology hopes the FDA will ban indoor tanning devices all together, but at the least, should require a minimum age of 18 for ANY indoor tanning and should mandate obtaining informed consent from clients AFTER educating them about the real risks of skin cancer. The AADA also strongly recommends changing the risk category of these machines to match the health risks they create.

BOTTOM LINE: TANNING is NOT SAFE and "base tans" don't help! Use sunscreen, wear protective clothing and stay away from tanning beds all together.

PS It's June 1st- Change those AIR FILTERS!