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Dr. Anderson: Skin and Climate Changes
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Dr. Anderson: Skin and Climate Changes
Doctor Eric Anderson, a charter diplomat of the American Board of Family
Practice and a former president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians,
is a regular contributor to Travel Tips 'n' Tales. He is widely traveled
and published, having written a travel health column for Travel 50 & Beyond
and a weekly online column, Ask The Doctor, for The New York Times Syndicate.
Dr. Anderson invites you to send your questions regarding travel health
issues to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cold Weather Itch & Hot Weather Rashes
Eric Anderson MD
When we travel to places that are very hot we get heat rashes and swollen
ankles, and when we travel somewhere that's very cold and dry we get itchy
skin, nose bleeds and chapped lips. Why is our body affected by extreme
climate changes and how best can we prepare for this?
You're right; we sure get problems when we move around in countries with
different climates. Those problems are because climate variations
particularly impact the only barrier between our body and our outside
environment, the biggest organ in the human body: our skin. The skin, about
16 percent of our body weight, has many functions and one important one is
to keep our body temperature constant despite what's going on outside. And
that's a challenge when we are, literally, out of our environment.
Hot & Humid Places
1. Hot places that are humid make our skin sweat. The sweat can't evaporate
because of the humidity and the sweat glands become irritated causing what
we call prickly heat. Moist skin is also susceptible to fungal and yeast
infections which often develop in those hidden places "where the sun don't
shine." And heat and humidity can be trigger factors for the 15 million or
so Americans who have eczema, a skin problem, partly genetic, that's worse
for those at the two extremes of age: children and the elderly.
Specific considerations for hot humid climes are, as we've all personally
found, learning to avoid tight synthetic clothing, and rely instead on
loosely fitting cottons and seek relief where we can find air conditioning..
A hair drier can be used to dry soggy skin that is becoming irritated. Corn
starch may be helpful to dry up lesions. Anti-yeast creams may be useful.
Cortisone cream may assist or worsen the situation. Furthermore, travelers
who can wear their jewelry without difficulty back home often find allergic
reactions developing if the skin becomes soggy and irritated because there
is a tiny amount of nickel in most jewelry and many persons are allergic to
We can get swollen legs in hot places for different reasons. This problem
may have begun as we sat a long time in aircraft or just sat lazily in a hot
sun. The heat makes our blood vessels open up, and our lower limbs as a
result of gravity become suffused with poorly-circulating blood that just
puddles there (though elevation and brisk activity gets the circulation
moving again). The stress of intolerable heat can also be difficult for a
person with heart disease and cause lower limb swelling but that's another
Hot & Dry Places
2. Hot dry places create the opposite predicament. The outer layer of the
skin is normally 10 percent water and climates that reduce that amount make
the skin feel uncomfortably dry. The remedy is to bathe less often and to
use moisturizer creams. And, of course, use sunscreens that block both
ultraviolet A and B rays and have at least a sun protection factor of 15. We
should avoid midday sun especially if we're taking one of the many medicines
that cause photosensitivity (increased intolerance to solar radiation). This
means we have to read labels and that goes for skin products too: persons
with sensitive skin should avoid lotions or creams that contain
alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA). Alcohol is present on many wet wipes and although
those may make sense before eating if we can't wash our hands, they can dry
the skin if used excessively.
The American Southwest in summer can really dry us out. A few days there in
hot weather can make anyone's eyes red though artificial tears help. Hot dry
air can cause the inside lining of the nose to crack and become painful. The
very day I flew back from five days in Las Vegas I had a miserable posterior
nose bleed. (Nose bleeds from the back, not front, of the nose can be
serious and difficult to stop. Mine required two ER visits.) The air in
aircraft is very dry also and it's worth while pocketing any salt packets
that come on our meal tray for future salt water sniffing if we sense our
nose lining is getting too dry in hot climes.
Cold & Dry Places
3. Cold dry places often make us spend more time indoors where the air is
even drier. Outside, people are subject to the drying action of wind and
possibly the irritation of wool garments -- which are always a problem for
persons with eczema.
Dry cold weather itch is more of a problem than any other skin condition but
can often be prevented. The rules for persons with winter-sensitive skin
are to avoid over-bathing as it sucks a lot of the natural oils out of the
skin. Showers are less drying to the skin than tub baths; lukewarm water is
better than hot, mild soaps make more sense than strong or antiseptic ones,
scrubbing of the skin should be avoided, soap should be rinsed off well and
a plain moisturizer (without fragrance) should be applied all over within
three minutes of a shower. (Dermatologists call that the "Three Minutes
Rule.") Lip balms can stop cracking of lips and the eruption of cold sores
that frequently follow.
If our hotel offers some rooms with humidifiers should we snap one up? Yes
if we are confident it carries out proper maintenance on them. If they are
not kept clean they grow molds, the worst thing for a person with lung
problems to face.
So should we stay home and avoid all that stuff? Not at all. We face some of
those problems at home all the time as the seasons change. We handle them.
And we get out there and travel.
» » More articles by Dr. Eric Anderson
NOTE: Lorry Patton's Travel Tips 'n' Tales would like to remind you to always consult
with your personal physician before following any medical advice and to please read the Travel
opinions are not necessarily the opinions of Lorry Patton or Travel Tips 'n' Tales.