Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Paying Attention to Daily UV Index Ratings Can Decrease the Risk of Cancer


Although studies have repeatedly shown that UV sterilization is an extremely effective method of killing airborne biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, did you know that extremely high levels of outdoor UV rays from the sun can be harmful to your health?

According to AirNow, a cross-agency of the U.S. Government, the public should take into consideration UV Index ratings before going outside or engaging in any sort of strenuous outdoor activity. This is especially crucial for those who experience UV sensitivity or patients on medication that causes sun sensitivity, such as Accutane, Flexeril, Pamelor, or even Motrin.

The ozone layer shields the Earth from harmful UV radiation, but ozone depletion, as well as seasonal and weather variations, can cause different amounts of UV radiation to reach the Earth at any given time. Therefore, the UV Index was developed by the EPA and the National Weather Service to predict the day’s UV radiation levels on a 1-11+ scale, and this index has helped the public determine appropriate sun-protective behaviors. Whenever the level of solar UV radiation is predicted to be unusually high and when the risk of overexposure is greater, the EPA will thus issue what is called a “UV Alert”

In terms of how the UV Index works, it entails measuring the next day forecast of the amount of skin damaging UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface at the time when the sun is highest in the sky. This amount of UV radiation reaching the surface is also primarily related to the elevation of the sun in the sky, the amount of clouds present, and the amount of ozone in the stratosphere. As such, the higher the UV Index, the greater the dose rate of skin and eye damaging UV radiation; therefore, the higher the UV index, the smaller amount of time it takes before skin damage occurs.

Overexposure to UV radiation can primarily cause two serious side effects: severe sun burn following intense, short-term exposure, and serious skin cancers such as Melanoma that develop after long-term, high UV exposure. Melanoma is one of the most deadly types of skin cancer, and this usually occurs after a patient is subjected to several intense overexposures. Non-melanoma skin cancers, on the other hand, are almost 100 percent curable, and usually occur in those who are overexposed for long periods of time, such as farmers or fisherman. In addition, studies have shown that long-term UV overexposure can also cause cataracts in the eyes as well.

If your city’s UV Index is especially high and you must venture outside, follow some of these important steps:

1. Limit the amount of sun exposure and avoid going out during the late morning to early mid-day, as these are the hours with the highest UV radiation levels.

2. Wear protective clothing such as long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and shirts with sleeves that completely cover the arms.

3. If going to the beach, remember that sand reflects the sun’s rays and will increase the chance of burning.

4. Be aware that even on cloudy days, sunburns can still occur, as clouds do not have the ability to stop UV rays.

5. Wear protective sunscreen to minimize UV ray exposure, and find a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Light-skinned people will need to use an even higher SPF, and all sunscreens should be applied right before going out into the sun and reapplied often.

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