26 September 2009

Natural hazards: sunburn

Being outdoors is lots of fun, but we need to take the proper precautions.
Pulau Semakau sandy shores
Here's an account of severe sunburn: blisters, peeling and pus

From fun in sun to severe sunburn
He returns from fishing trip with blisters, peeling and pus
Ng Wan Ching, The New Paper 26 Sep 09;
HE HAPPILY set off for his first fishing trip in Rompin in Pahang and came home with more than he bargained for.

He had a case of severe sunburn, complete with blisters, peeling and what looked like pus.

All that happened about two weeks ago.

Mr Tay Shi Hong, 26, an engineer, is now much better, but it took him more than a week to get over the worst of it.

He was the only one in his group of five to suffer sunburn even though no one else had put on sun block as well.

They had left it behind in their chalet.

Said Mr Tay in an interview with The New Paper: 'I was exposed to the sun for a slightly longer duration than the others and I probably have more sensitive skin.'

There was a small part of the boat which was covered and provided some shade.

He said: 'We were out on the boat for about eight hours from 9am to 5pm. I guess I spent about four to five hours directly under the sun.'

That night, he could see that his shoulders, which were not covered by his singlet, looked red. The next day, a Sunday, he went on the boat again.

This time, he put on sun block and wore a T-shirt which covered up his shoulders. But it was too late.

By the time he got off the boat and returned to the chalet, he could feel the blisters forming.

The group drove back to Singapore that night. The next morning, he found even more blisters. They were painful.

'He went to a nearby general practitioner (GP) who gave him a two-day MC and some cream. But after two days, his condition did not improve. The GP then gave him another type of cream and three more days of medical leave.

Relief came on Thursday morning, four days after his sunburn.

Mr Tay said: 'I woke up and found that a lot of the pus-like looking fluid in the blisters had come out. The liquid formed a big spot on my mattress.'

The blisters had burst and that relieved some of the pressure he had been feeling.

Slowly, the burst blisters dried up and formed scabs. Some of his skin also peeled off.

Now that he's had this experience, he will always put on sun block before going out.

'I will also wear clothes which cover more of my body. We didn't know something like this would happen. My colleagues who were with me during the trip thought at first it was quite funny, that I got sunburnt so fast. None of us expected it to be such a bad case,' he said.

Doctors here say that being severely sunburnt is just like being burned. It is painful and even debilitating.

The lighter or fairer your skin, the more likely it is to burn.

Clouds offer little protection.

'You can get a bad sunburn on a cloudy day,' said Dr M Wong, a GP.

While blisters resulting from sunburn is not common, it can happen in extreme cases, he added.

Sunlight reflected from water can also give you a burn. So being out on the sea under the hot sun with no protection is like a double whammy.

Consultant dermatologist Dr Joyce Lim from Joyce Lim Skin and Laser Clinic said once blisters form, steroids would be used to calm the burnt skin.

'Then we will use lots of moisturiser. We would also prick the blisters to allow the fluid inside to flow out, but leave the roof of the blister on to protect the skin,' she said.

Usually the blisters would not be infected and the yellowish liquid inside them is not pus, just serum.

'But if you don't keep the area clean, blisters can get infected, then you would get a lot of warmth from the blistered areas and also sticky pus,' she said.

Repeated sunburn can eventually cause ageing, wrinkles, brown spots on the skin, and even skin cancer.

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