It’s heating up here in the Lowcountry – and our glorious warm weather isn’t always fun in the sun! Intense sunlight, hot and humid temperatures, poisonous plants and biting insects can cause a host of skin problems.
This is a great time of year to get out, relax and enjoy yourself, but unfortunately outdoor activities can increase the risk of sunburn, rashes, and insect bites. Too much heat or exposure to insects and certain plants can cause extremely irritating and itchy rashes – and if left untreated can cause more serious problems.
Q: After a trip to the beach, I developed a rash on my chest and neck that looks like red pimples and blisters. Is this sun poisoning?
A: It sounds like it could be PMLE (polymorphous light eruption) which appears shortly after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or commercial tanning beds and is often mistaken for sun poisoning.
PMLE is a reaction that light-sensitive people like yourself may have after their first few exposures to sunlight each year. Treat the affected areas with a cool compress, hydrocortisone cream and try anti-inflammatory medications. PMLE usually clears up on its own in seven to 10 days. However, if the rash does not improve you should consult a dermatologist.
Q: Lately when I’m exposed to the heat, I develop a rash. What is it and what can I do about it?
A: It could be heat rash. This happens when the body gets too hot and can’t evaporate sweat fast enough. The sweat ducts become plugged and trap perspiration beneath the skin, causing clusters of red spots or small, blister-like bumps that are extremely itchy.
Typically, you’ll find this in skin folds or wherever clothing causes friction. Try to dress in soft, lightweight, loose-fitting cotton clothing and avoid powders and heavy creams that can block skin pores.
Once the rash appears, try to keep your skin cool, apply cold water compresses, calamine lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
Q: I’ve heard you shouldn’t scratch bug bites. Is this true?
A: Mosquitoes, chiggers and tick bites are quite common in summer as these insects are drawn to the heat. These bites can cause a nasty, itchy rash, so it is always best to protect yourself with insect repellent. If you are bitten and develop a rash, the best way to treat it is to try not to scratch it, because scratching it can cause an infection.
If you find yourself with a rash or insect bite that is not healing promptly, call your dermatologist.
Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.