Posted by Reporter on Tuesday
Summer isn’t always fun in the sun. Intense sunlight, hot and humid temperatures, poisonous plants and biting insects can cause a host of skin problems. The June issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers ways to prevent and treat common summer skin problems.
Heat rash (miliaria rubra): Heat rash occurs when sweat ducts become plugged and trap perspiration beneath the skin. The rash appears as clusters of red spots or small, blisterlike bumps that are extremely itchy or prickly. Heat rash typically develops in skin folds or wherever clothing causes friction.
Prevention methods — Dressing in soft, lightweight, loose-fitting cotton clothing can help prevent heat rash. Avoiding powders and heavy creams can help, too; these products can block skin pores.
Treatment — Sweat reduction and keeping the skin cool help clear up the rash. (Think air conditioning.) Cool-water compresses, calamine lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help reduce itching.
Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE): This rash typically appears within hours after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or commercial tanning beds. It appears as itchy red spots on the front of the neck, on the chest, arms and thighs.
People with fair skin and limited sun exposure in the winter are most susceptible. With increasing sun exposure, this type of light sensitivity usually decreases over time. But the same rash may recur next spring after a winter without sun exposure.
Prevention — Using sunblock and limiting sun exposure can reduce the risk of PMLE.
Treatment — Cool compresses, hydrocortisone cream and anti-inflammatory medications (Advil, Motrin, others) can help relieve symptoms. PMLE usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days. When symptoms don’t improve, patients should check with a doctor to consider other conditions or possible allergies.
Poison ivy and poison oak: Contact with these plants causes red, swollen skin, blisters and severe itching within days or weeks of exposure. These plants produce an oily substance called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in most people. Urushiol can stick to almost anything, including clothes, pet fur, and even gardening tools.
Prevention — Avoidance is the best prevention. Since leaves from both plants grow in groups of three, a helpful catch phrase to remember is “leaves of three, let them be.” For high-risk activities — hiking or camping — some dermatologists recommend an over-the-counter skin product that contains bentoquatam, which prevents urushiol from penetrating the skin.
Treatment — Immediately washing with soap and water after exposure can help. For a mild rash, cool showers, calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream can relieve symptoms. For severe rashes, or rashes that involve the face, eyes or genitals, a doctor’s care is advised. Prescription medications, such as an oral corticosteroid, may be needed to reduce itching and swelling.
Chigger and tick bites: Chiggers — tiny red mites found in grass and weeds — attach to the skin and feed on fluids in the skin cells. They fall off in a few days, leaving behind itchy red welts where they were attached. Redness and intense itching can last for weeks.
Ticks, most often found in grassy or wooded areas, are dark in color. They range from the size of a poppy seed to a pencil eraser. They leave behind red bumps or other skin reactions. And they can transmit Lyme disease, characterized by a distinctive bull’s-eye rash, flulike symptoms and aching joints.
Prevention — Protective clothing, long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks or shoes can keep bugs at bay. Insect repellants containing DEET offer protection. After a person is outdoors, a shower can wash away chiggers or unattached ticks. When ticks have burrowed into the skin, they need to be pulled off carefully with tweezers.
Treatment — Over-the-counter hydrocortisone can relieve itching from chigger bites. For rashes that spread or seem to be infected, a doctor’s care is needed. For tick bites, or when symptoms of Lyme disease are present, consultation with a physician is advised. Antibiotics are necessary to treat Lyme disease.
Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 1-800-876-8633, extension 9751, (toll-free) or visit www.bookstore.mayoclinic.com.