Ask Your Pharmacist
My son got too much sun the other day and now his skin is blistered. What can I do to ease the pain?
It is officially summer and with the season comes the responsibility of protecting ourselves from over exposure to the sun and its heat. Here are some tips on treating sunburn and recognizing heat-related illness:
The first thing you should do when you may have a sunburn is to get out of the sun and go indoors. For the first 24 hours, cool your skin as frequently as you can in a cool bath or shower to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera. I keep my bottle of aloe vera in the fridge because I find the cooler temperature provides additional relief. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription (ask your pharmacist for advice). Avoid over-the-counter products that contain benzocaine or lidocaine because these ingredients may irritate the burned skin or cause an allergic reaction. Consider taking ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, and discomfort. Drink plenty of fluids. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
If your skin blisters, do not pop the blister(s). The skin provides a physical barrier that prevents bacteria that cause skin infections. Allow blister(s) to heal. Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals by wearing clothing that covers your skin when outdoors.
What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
Heat-related illness is known as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Classic heat stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when your core body temperature is above 40 C (104 F). Heat stroke causes changes in your level of consciousness including confusion, combativeness, dizziness, drowsiness, or even convulsions. Heat exhaustion is less severe and more common. It occurs when your core body temperature is between 37 C (98.6 F) and 40 C. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are usually mild and include thirst, headache, weakness, and malaise. Although the skin may be hot to touch and the person may be flushed and sweating, her or his core temperature is below 40°C. Heat exhaustion generally resolves on its own with cooling, rest, and rehydration. Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are caused from prolonged exposure to the sun’s heat and a lack of adequate hydration.
Who is most at risk from the heat?
People with chronic health conditions (i.e. heart disease, asthma, COPD, chronic kidney disease, patients with diabetes, obesity, etc.) are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Older New Brunswickers, children, and endurance athletes may also be at higher risk. Alcohol and certain medications (i.e. lithium, antihistamines, anticholinergics, diuretics, etc.) can increase your risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke by interfering with your ability to self-regulate body temperature.
How do I treat heat exhaustion?
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion promptly because if unchecked, they can quickly lead to life-threatening heat stroke. Immediately move the person from the area of heat. Loosen tight fitting clothing. Use a damp cloth to wet the skin and allow cooling. Hydrate with an electrolyte containing drink (i.e. GatoradeR or G2R). If symptoms do not improve in 30 minutes, seek medical assessment. If there is any decrease in the person’s level of consciousness or if the person experiences new confusion, seek medical assessment immediately.
How can I prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke?
If your home is equipped with a heat pump or air conditioner, make sure it is working properly before the hot weather arrives. For those without these units, use fans to keep your home cool. Avoid prolonged exposure to the heat. If you have to be out in hot temperatures, take frequent breaks in the shade and ensure to keep hydrated with plenty of water. If you do not have your own vehicle, carpool or use public transportation to get to and from your place of work (instead of walking). Stay alert about public heat advisories for New Brunswick by downloading Environment Canada’s new mobile app called WeatherCAN available at: https://weather.gc.ca/warnings/index_e.html?prov=nb
Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.
Sussex pharmacist Kevin Duplisea dispenses information and advice on a wide range of pharmacy questions in a regular column published in several newspapers.
If you have a question you’d like to see answered in his column, you can send it to him at AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.