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When Nature Gets Under Your Skin

When Nature Gets Under Your Skin

On 18 May 2018, in

Know how to identify, treat and avoid these common warm-weather skin conditions.

By Jessica Park

Spring’s arrival means longer days, shorter sleeves, and resuming your favorite outdoor activities. It also means increased contact with things that irritate your skin, from the sun to everything under it.

Skin is our largest immune defense organ, serving as a barrier between your body and the outdoors.

“Your skin is monitored by circulating white blood cells, which provide your body's immune defense against the world's collection of infectious organisms. For example, the skin recognizes bacteria, viruses and fungal elements, which can invade and cause your body harm. When the skin is intact and you are healthy, we can coexist with these organisms,” explains Lindall Perry, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Central Missouri Dermatology. A dermatologist specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the skin, nails and hair.

Broken and cut skin puts your body at risk of infections. Dr. Perry recommends keeping wounds coated with a topical antibacterial ointment. If an injury site becomes painful, red and swollen, see your physician.

While most skin conditions aren’t life-threatening, they can be a symptom of a serious health condition or severe allergic reaction. If a rash covers your body, is painful, appears infected, or is accompanied by other symptoms, see your physician. If you develop a rash with trouble breathing, swelling, dizziness, or nausea, seek emergency medical care.

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun or indoor tanning lamps. Your skin turns red and painful and, in severe cases, may swell or blister. You may also feel fatigued or feverish. Sunburn is a sign of sun damage – over time, too much sun damage can cause premature aging and skin cancer, including melanoma.

How to Treat:

Treat sunburn as soon as you notice it – first, by getting out of the sun! To reduce pain, apply cold compresses and creams or gels with aloe vera, or take an NSAID like ibuprofen. Sunburn is usually accompanied by dehydration, so drink plenty of fluids.

How to Avoid:

Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps. Before going outside, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of 30 or greater. Reapply every two hours or sooner if you sweat or swim. Cover your skin with clothes and take shelter in the shade. Be aware that some prescription medications can increase your sensitivity to sunburns.

See Your Doctor If:

You have a second-degree sunburn with swelling and blisters. A history of severe sunburn is a risk factor for skin cancer. Examine your skin for any changes (new moles; irregular-shaped or colored moles; bleeding moles; moles that grow larger). Dermatologists can screen for skin cancer and may offer treatments to improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.

Heat rashes, or prickly heat, are caused by blocked sweat ducts, usually during hot, humid weather or after exercising. The rash may appear as tiny clear or red bumps, and typically affects skin folds or areas covered by clothes.

How to Treat:

Heat rashes usually clear up on their own. Take a cool bath or shower or briefly apply a cold compress for relief. Wash the affected area with a gentle soap and pat dry. Don’t put lotion on the rash. Try to keep your skin cool and dry.

How to Avoid:

Keep cool and hydrated in hot weather. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, breathable clothes. If you exercise outdoors, avoid working out during the hottest time of the day.

See Your Doctor If:

The rash won’t go away or becomes infected. While sweating is normal, if you have problems with excessive perspiration, a dermatologist can help identify the cause and find solutions. 

Mosquito bites often result in itchy red bumps or welts. While most mosquito bites aren’t serious, mosquitos can spread bloodborne diseases, like West Nile virus.

How to Treat:

Don’t scratch. According to Dr. Perry, itching is caused when your cells release histamine in response to an irritant, such as mosquito saliva: “The act of scratching one's itch causes more histamine to be released. Therefore, we often recommend not to scratch your skin for fear you might create an injury which could lead to an infection.” Dr. Perry often recommends over-the-counter, oral antihistamines to relieve mild itching ­– ask your physician or pharmacist for recommendations.

How to Avoid:

Keep mosquitos away with screens or netting. Remove standing water on your property, where mosquitos tend to lay eggs. Apply an insect repellant containing DEET before going outside. Mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk. If you plan to travel to tropical locations, visit your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before you leave to discuss concerns and precautions.

See Your Doctor If:

You develop a fever, flu-like symptoms or severe headache, or the bite becomes infected.

Tick bites. Some ticks spread bacterial diseases through their bites, including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. To transmit the bacteria, the tick must attach itself to your skin and feed. If you find a flat tick walking on your skin, it hasn’t infected you.

How to Treat:

If you find a tick attached to your body, use tweezers to gently and slowly remove it. Don’t use your fingers, petroleum jelly, nail polish, or a hot match to remove it. Avoid crushing or squeezing the tick. Wash the bite and your hands with soap and hot water.

How to Avoid:

Before going outdoors, apply an insect repellent containing DEET and cover up your skin. For extra protection, tuck in your shirt and tuck your pant legs into your socks. After walking through grassy areas, check your body for ticks.

See Your Doctor If:

You need help removing a tick; the bite area becomes infected or develops a rash with a bulls-eye pattern; or you develop flu-like symptoms.

Poison ivy, oak and sumac rashes are caused by urushiol, an oil found in every part of these plants. An itchy, blistering rash appears where the urushiol touched your skin, hours to days after contact.

How to Treat:

Don’t scratch or pick at the rash. Relieve itching with colloidal oatmeal baths, cool compresses, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine pill. Avoid getting exposed again – you could have a worse reaction. Dr. Perry says, “You should expect to be hypersensitive to poison ivy for the rest of the summer if you get significant exposure early in the season. Your body's immune reaction is primed to deliver an exuberant response if second and subsequent exposures arise in a short period of time.”

How to Avoid:

Learn to identify these plants – poison ivy is common in Missouri. If you come into contact with the plant, immediately rinse your skin with lukewarm, soapy water. Urushiol can stick to clothing, pet fur, or sports and gardening equipment, so wash these items thoroughly. Don’t burn poison ivy, oak or sumac – the urushiol can become airborne and land on your skin.

See Your Doctor If:

Your rash doesn’t improve after two weeks; appears infected; or covers a large area of your body, your face or genitals.

Athlete’s foot is a contagious fungal infection that causes itchy, flaking, cracked skin on the soles of your feet and between your toes. Most people get it by walking barefoot in locker rooms or showers, then the fungus grows in the damp, warm confines of their shoes. Athlete’s foot can be treated at home, but take precautions to avoid spreading it to your household. 

How to Treat:

Many over-the-counter antifungal products can treat athlete’s foot. While treating the infection, keep your feet clean and dry. If you or someone at home has athlete’s foot, don’t share footwear or towels, and wear shower shoes or flip-flops around the house.

How to Avoid:

Wear shower shoes or flip-flops when walking around a locker room, shared shower, or pool deck. Wash your feet with soap and dry them thoroughly every day. Keep your feet dry with well-ventilated shoes and socks made of moisture-wicking fabric. Avoid wearing the same pair of shoes every day. Don’t share footwear.

See Your Doctor If:

Your infection worsens, doesn’t clear up, or spreads to your toenails or other areas; or you have diabetes or a compromised immune system. According to Dr. Perry, diabetics are prone to neuropathy that causes numbness in the feet. They may not feel the pain caused by athlete’s foot or secondary infections. He recommends diabetics place a hand mirror on the floor and hold the foot over it to check the sole and toes for redness or fissures.

If you find unexplained or unusual redness, discoloration, welts, bumps, flakes, cracks, or anything else on your skin, a board-certified dermatologist has extensive training to diagnose and treat you. Your primary care provider can refer you to a dermatologist or you can refer yourself.

“I recommend anyone seek the care of a dermatologist if they have any concerns with their skin, hair or nails. We emphasize the importance of caring for our largest and most visible organ of our body – the skin. We are always glad to serve anyone who needs help with a skin issue,” says Dr. Perry.

Lindall Perry, MD, is with Central Missouri Dermatology. The practice sees patients in Columbia, Jefferson City, Boonville, Mexico and Moberly. For more information, visit centralmodermatologygroup.com or call 573.876.1616

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