Abusing your protective cover

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I was prompted to write about this subject after seeing so many European tourists sporting a wonderful red colored skin, with contrasting white strap marks.  Several cases of acute sunburn every day.  Now while acute sunburn can generally be got over, the long term effects may not be as easy to deal with.

For immediate treatment cool the burned areas.  Put wet towels in the freezer and remove after five minutes and place on the burned areas.  As soon as the cold towels are no longer effective, change them for another one from the freezer.

If the skin is unbroken, you can try a very, very weak hydrocortisone ointment, but not if the skin is blistered.  With blisters, do not ‘pop’ them, but just cover for a few days.  Use simple paracetamol for the pain.

However, the biggest problems may come later – much later.

I have written before about lumps and bumps on the ‘skin’, that fantastic wrapping that we all need to keep forever if we are to remain healthy!  And what a wonderful organ our skin really is.  It regulates the passage of water and electrolytes and keeps that internal collection of bones and organs neatly covered with a self-sealing all enveloping wrapping.  We can’t live without our skin.

Unfortunately we tend to abuse our skin, and I must admit I am no exception.  Sun block was not high on my list of picnic requirements, even though it should be.

Like all of our other organs, the skin organ can have problems too, and these range from minor rashes, fungal infections, cysts, warts and other “lumpy” conditions that we call Tumors.  Now the very word ‘Tumors’ strikes fear in the hearts of many, but this is purely a term to describe growths on the skin, which may or may not be ‘malignant’.  In fact, most skin tumors are not malignant (called ‘benign’), and even with the malignant ones, the majority are not going to kill you.  Having said that, it does not mean that you should ignore skin growths.  While most will not kill you, they can make the last few years very unpleasant if left untreated, like Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC’s), Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCC’s) that eat you away and then the Melanomas that can be fatal.

Yes, Melanoma is also much more widespread than you would imagine.  And the statistics can be quite frightening.  Take these US statistics – Melanoma strikes people of all ages, all races, all economic levels and both sexes.  It is already the most common cancer for women 25 to 29 and the second most common cancer for women 30 to 34 and the incidence of melanoma is increasing faster than any other cancer.  An American’s lifetime risk of developing melanoma is about 1 in 75.

Now those American statistics are not so bad compared to some other countries.  Two of the worst, as far as melanoma statistics are concerned are Australia and New Zealand.  Why?  Because these sunny countries have become inhabited by fair skinned people from the northern hemisphere, a skin which was not designed for the tropical sun.

So where does that put us Caucasians living in a tropical country like Thailand?  At risk, that’s what.  And I am sure you have all been like me and suffered sunburn from time to time, one of the predisposing factors in changing seemingly “innocent moles” into malignant Melanomas.  Researchers have also shown that overexposure to the sun as a child can result in an increased risk of Melanoma as an adult.  In my era, children were actually sent out to play in the sun, because it was ‘healthy’!

The message with the Melanomas is to find the moles before they change – and that takes a trained and skilled eye and sometimes a biopsy as well.  But it is worth the look.  Melanoma can be fatal, remember.  These dark pigmented skin lesions with irregular borders invade the deeper tissues and can spring up as secondary lesions as well.  These are truly tumors that can kill you.  Wide and deep surgical excision is the treatment of choice, that often leaves a most unattractive scar.

Prevention is much better than cure!