Sun Related Injuries and Illnesses
Sunburn is the result of overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Fair hair and pale skin increase
the risk sunburn, but even people with dark or black skin can burn, so need to protect themselves.. People still believe that the sun
is harmless and will do no more than give them a healthy tan. Not only is there no such thing as a healthy tan, but first and second
degree burns can be sustained from sun exposure.
The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am and 2pm, because the sun is directly above at that point, which makes the rays concentrated.
Exposure to the sun is increased at higher altitudes, and the reflection off the snow can intensify the rays. The effects often take up
to 24 hours to appear, but the damage is immediate and long term. Years of unprotected sun exposure causes premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. It can also cause cataracts. Immediate sunburn will be agony and hinder a trip. For these reasons prevention is important.
- Avoid exposure during the peak hours of the suns rays.
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30, making sure to cover to face, nose and ears.
- Apply sun cream 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, so as to allow penetration.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
- Use a lip balm with an SPF.
However, sunburn is usually inevitable in mountain conditions. It is often much less of a priority to climbers than it should be, for
example when the weather is overcast. Harmful rays can penetrate through clouds. The symptoms are:
- Red, tender skin, which is warm to the touch
- Peeling skin a few days after the initial sunburn
- Apply a cool compress for 10-15 minutes several times a day.
- Apply a soothing lotion to the skin.
However, do not:
- Apply petroleum jelly, ointment or butter to the sunburn. These will make the symptoms worse and prevent air from reaching the site.
- Wash burnt skin with soap.
If any of the following signs are spotted then it will be necessary to descend and seek medical help:<br><br>
- Signs of shock, for example fainting, dizziness, rapid pulse or breathing, increased thirst, pale, clammy or cool skin.
- Painful eyes or photophobia (sensitivity to light).
- The sunburn is severe, painful and prevents proper movement.
Again, it is actually possible to be affected by the sun’s harmful rays even when it doesn’t seem that sunny. Sun stroke is likely
to affect climbers because of their prolonged exposure to the sun. It upsets the body’s self-regulating mechanism for temperature,
which makes the person hot.
It is unlikely that you will be able to spot sun stroke whilst the person is exposed to the sun – the signs take a few hours to
appear. They include:
- Red, flushed face
- Hot dry skin
- Racing, strong pulse
To treat, the body temperature must be brought down in a controlled way. This can be done by:
- Remove clothing and sponge the person with cool water
- Fan the person
- Put them in dry clothes and continue to fan
- If their temperature begins to rise again repeat the steps above
Snow blindness, or solar/ultraviolet keratitis, is essentially sunburn of the cornea, caused by too much unprotected exposure to the sun.
The amount of light on a snow covered mountain can exceed up to 15 times the amount of light that is safe for your eyes, so good quality
sunglasses should always be worn, even in cloudy conditions. It is best to wear either goggles or large, close-fitting glasses with side
shields, because these don’t permit any exposure at all, even by accident. They should also be able to absorb 99-100% of harmful UV rays.
The symptoms of snow blindness only appear eight hours after the damage was done. The eyes will feel very sore and dry, as if they are full of sand, causing decreased and possibly hazy vision. Eye movement will be painful, as will exposure to light (photophobia.) Eyelids will swell, and eyes will become red and produce fluid. A headache may also be present. To treat, use cold compresses and rest in a dark
environment, such as a tent if possible. Do not rub the eyes – it may cause long lasting damage and scarring.