Can you imagine going on holiday in the tropics and not having the sun play a major part? Probably not! The sun makes us feel good, lightens our mood and makes our days positive. It can help us health-wise by putting us in the mood for fun and relaxation, and of course, it gives us vitamin D. For many of us, holidays are a time to go on an all-out solar binge. Unfortunately, as soon as you’re spending large amounts of time outside (here in the tropics that could be as little as 20 minutes) exposure to the sun presents some dangers. Every year in Thailand hundreds of holidaymakers put themselves at risk or end up sick because they’ve misjudged the sun. Here’s a brief guide to keeping safe on sunny days.
Sunburn’s always a worry when it comes to hot climates; it’s easy to go red. Just because it’s a bit cloudy doesn’t mean to say you can’t get sunburned. A few hours, albeit under a hazy ceiling of cirrus cloud can leave you groaning with pain by the evening. Similarly, driving along the road with your elbow sticking out of the open window may seem innocuous but it can give you nasty localized sunburn – though of course you may not end up with any elbow at all given the dangers of the roads here! Possibly the most unexpected of all sunburns happens when travelling on an open boat. How come? Because it doesn’t feel hot thanks to the sea breeze, and you may be lulled into a false sense of security. Thirty minutes at sea is quite enough time for you to begin that short metamorphosis from human to lobster. Likewise, if you’re constantly going in and out of the sea or the swimming pool, you may not feel hot at all, and psychologically you may believe you’re not at risk from sunburn. Even if you’re used to the heat and sun of the Mediterranean, here the sun is more ferocious still.
You should take be very careful of the sun if you if your skin is pale, white or light brown, if you have freckles or red or fair hair and if you have a lot of moles. While sunburn is usually short-lived, it is best avoided, since it can boost the likelihood of developing serious health problems later in life, such as skin cancer. Babies under six months old should avoid the sun altogether. Remember to cover their head and face, and use a stroller with a canopy. Children should be encouraged to play in the shade during peak hours of sunshine. If children get blistered by the sun at an early age, it can double their chance of getting melanoma later on in life.
If you do get sunburned, the first port of call is your nearest pharmacy – there are many on Samui and they should be able to help. If not, you’ll need to go to a hospital and see a doctor. But maybe you can treat yourself in your hotel. Here are a few home remedies that may be of help.
Sponge the skin with cold water, or have a cold shower and place a cold compress on affected areas. Drink plenty of water to cool you down and prevent dehydration. You can also apply a water-based emollient or petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to help with hydration. Should you need to take pain medication, choose ibuprofen or paracetamol. Remember that aspirin should not be given to children under 16. Cover up the sunburned areas until the skin has healed and avoid all sunlight, even through glass. If you’re sunburnt over a large area then home remedies and pharmacies won’t be enough, and you should see a doctor at one of the local hospitals. Definitely also go if your skin is blistering or swelling up, if you have the chills, or if you’re experiencing headaches and feel sick. Head for hospital in all cases if the person who has sunburn is a baby or a child, as their skin is more fragile than an adult’s. Hospitals often recommend hydrocortisone cream for a few days which will help to reduce skin inflammation. In addition, if burns are severe, you’ll need them dressed. Severe sunburn may require special burn cream, too.
But why go through any of this agony at all? It’s avoidable. Stock up on sunscreen labelled ‘broad spectrum’ meaning that it protects against two types of harmful light rays, ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B, usually abbreviated as UVA and UVB. Wear sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 or higher. If you have fair skin or light hair, you definitely should use a sunscreen with an even higher SPF. The longest protection is given by waterproof sunscreen.
It naturally helps to wear a hat, and the best ones for the purpose should have a wide brim. You should also wear wrap-around sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection to protect your eyes. When buying sunglasses it pays to check that they do provide 100% protection – cheap sunglasses won’t, no matter how chic they look. For clothing, avoid being skimpily dressed and opt instead for lightweight but tightly woven fabrics that cover as much of the body as possible. Avoid fabrics that are thin or have a loose weave, since UV rays can pass right through them.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are two other conditions that can result from spending too long in the sun, or simply too long in a hot place. They can also occur when doing very tough physical exercise. Heat exhaustion happens when you get very hot and start to lose a lot of water and salt from your body. Symptoms may involve simply feeling unwell, or they can include tiredness and weakness, feeling dizzy or faint, headache, muscle cramps, feeling nauseous, heavy sweating, fast pulse, dark urine and infrequent urine. Heatstroke symptoms include feeling confused or disoriented, having seizures and passing out. If not dealt with, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke or sunstroke (too much exposure to the sun). Heatstroke is very serious and can endanger the brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. So aim to spot heat exhaustion early on, and deal with it quickly. Both conditions can develop quickly over a few minutes, or gradually over several hours or days.
If you’re suffering from either, immediately go into the shade or better still somewhere with air-conditioning. Cool down as best you can. Wrap yourself in a wet sheet, use cold packs or sit in front of a fan, and drink water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink. Get someone to stay with you. Generally you should start feeling better within a half hour. If you don’t feel better after that, then it’s best to go to a hospital, and crucial if you’ve had a seizure or are feeling confused. Dehydration is also a problem on hot days, whether or not the sun is present. It may also affect you on Samui if you’re doing sport or even walking around in the heat. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Pharmacies also stock rehydration sachets and these usually work unbelievably fast. Symptoms of dehydration include any of the following: increased thirst, a dry mouth, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and heart palpitations.
If you’re on holiday, the idea is to have fun, and as much of it as possible. And in order to maximize it, the best thing you can do is to observe a few simple rules rather than give a shrug and a grin and try and play things your own way. When you’re faced with the biggest thing you’ve ever set eyes on – the sun – you can be sure that in any competition with this outlandishly over-sized ball of fiery gas, it’ll win. Let’s face it: the sun can and will turn you into a crisp. It doesn’t mean to do this, and it’s not malicious, but its job is to heat things up. If you’re holidaying in northern Europe, you don’t need to worry overmuch about the above, especially if you’re there in the dark winter months. But if you’re on Samui or anywhere in the tropics, it pays to be wary of the sun. Sure, it’s playing a crucial part in your holidays, but you don’t want it to ruin them. And since it doesn’t care either way, it’s entirely up to you.