With summer in full swing, we look forward to enjoying a good game on a beautiful sunny day. Apart from making baseball and softball more pleasant, sunshine has many health benefits including providing vitamin D and promoting calcium metabolism. However, short-term exposure to excessive sunlight can lead to several health issues including dehydration and sunburns, and long-term effects to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can lead to increased aging of the skin and risk of skin cancer.
Whether you are a fan in the stands or a Little Leaguer® on the field, make sure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Hydration helps prevent complications from excessive water loss caused by sun exposure, which can lead to dizziness, tiredness, weakness, nausea, or vomiting. In addition, consider wearing wide brim hats, loose and lightweight protective clothing, and sunglasses. If at all possible, stay in the shade during the hottest times of the day.
Another important means of protection from the sun’s rays is the use of sunscreen. Even on cloudy days, it is important to use this protection. Sunscreens work by reflecting or absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays. These rays are responsible for the harmful effects from sun exposure. I recommend using a broad spectrum sunscreen and realize that the Sun Protective Factor (SPF) identifies the relative amount of sunburn protection that the sunscreen provides the average user. To have best results with sunscreen, apply a thick layer with an SPF of 15 or greater at least 15 minutes before going outside. Make sure that you reapply sunscreen every two hours while outdoors or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
Sunburn can be an issue for ball players and fans that have been exposed to too much sun. Sunburns usually become apparent about four hours after exposure and will resolve over a several days. Symptoms of a sunburn include red, tender and sometimes swollen skin. Occasionally, sunburns are associated with headaches, fever, nausea, and fatigue. Treatment involves drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated and the use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve pain and fevers. Cool baths or wet cloths can also be used to ease pain. Consider topical creams which contain aloe, moisturizers or one-percent hydrocortisone for further relief. In addition, avoid further sun exposure until the area has healed. For severe sunburns, fevers over 101°F, dehydration or severe pain, seek the advice of your medical provider.
It is important to remember that skin cancer is a very real concern, and the result of too much sun exposure over a lifetime. Skin cancer is the most common human cancer. In the United States every year, 63,000 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, are diagnosed. The number of people in the United States with skin cancer is more than all of the patients with other forms of cancer combined. Risk factors for skin cancer include using indoor tanning, first degree relatives (mother, father, sister, or brother) with a history of skin cancer, sun exposure, and the total number of moles and skin type. While all types of skin cancers are rising, most skin cancers can be prevented by limiting or avoiding excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation and protecting yourself while in the sun.
Prevention and protection are the key to making baseball and softball even more enjoyable for everyone this season.
Dr. John Ball, Jr., is the former Assistant Director at the Williamsport (Pa.) Family Medicine Residency