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summer.jpg
19/Jan/2022

by Anne Lloyde, MSK Help Line Manager

We’re well and truly into summer, so we need to think about ways to stay safe, keep cool but still have fun in the warmer weather.

Taking care of your skin in the sun – it’s a balancing act

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, slide‘ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the summer sun. After all, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the primary cause of skin cancer, and Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. But sun exposure is essential for bone health. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium for strong bones.

It’s important to expose your hands, face and arms to the sun every day. The amount of time you need to do this depends on where you live, the time of the year, and your skin’s complexion. Healthy Bones Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

It’s also important to be aware of the dangers of sun damage and how you can expose your skin to the sun safely. SunSmart has a free app to help you determine the safe times to expose your skin to the sun. You can find out more about the app and download it here.

Sun sensitivity can affect people with various musculoskeletal conditions, including lupus and dermatomyositis. For people with sun sensitivity, sun exposure can cause rashes and lesions, flares or aggravation of their condition.

Medications can also cause the skin to be sensitive to sunlight, including some antibiotics, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For more information about medications that can increase your risk in the sun, read this article from The Conversation.

If you have issues with sun sensitivity and limit your time in the sun, you may be deficient in vitamin D, as the main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Talk with your doctor if you think this is an issue for you, as you may need vitamin D supplements.

How to take care of your skin:

  • Check daily UV levels by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology or the weather page in newspapers and online.
  • Use the Vitamin D and bone health map to guide you about the amount of time it’s safe for you to expose your skin to the sun.
  • Clothing, hats, sunscreen and shade are the best ways to protect your skin from UV light. You should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on skin that can’t be covered by clothing. Choose your clothing carefully as not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark material with a tight weave. The Cancer Council has some useful information to help you know what to look for in sun-protective clothing.
  • Keep a scarf or sun umbrella with you during the summer, just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly.
  • Wear a hat that shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5 cm provide excellent protection.
  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm (or 11 am and 3 pm daylight saving time) when UV levels are at their highest. Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.

For more information on protecting your skin, visit the Cancer Council website. They have lots of very helpful resources.

Staying active

One of the best ways to manage your musculoskeletal condition is to exercise regularly. But in the warmer weather, you need to consider the weather conditions. Your regular exercise program may not be appropriate for an Australian summer and may need to be adjusted. If you’re unsure where to start, talk with a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist for information and support.

Some general tips for exercising safely in summer:

  • Don’t eat before you exercise. Your body uses energy when it’s digesting food, creating more heat. That’s the last thing you want when you exercise, so give yourself plenty of time between eating a meal and exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water – before, during and after exercise. You sweat more when it’s hot and when you’re exercising, so you need to replenish the fluids you lose.
  • Wear loose-fitting, sun-protective clothing that allows you to move freely and for sweat to evaporate quickly.
  • Change the time you exercise. Avoid the hottest part of the day, so exercise earlier or later in the day. Or, if that’s not an option, change the way you exercise on very hot days. Exercise indoors using apps, online videos or DVDs. Or visit your local pool or beach and exercise in the water.
  • Recognise that there’ll be days when it’s not safe to exercise outdoors. And if you don’t have adequate cooling indoors, that applies to indoor exercise as well. Australia is a land of extreme temps, so on those really hot days, give yourself a break 😎.

Storing your medications in hot weather

You need to take special care with your medications in hot weather, and they need to be stored correctly in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight.

Avoid bathrooms, as they’re often humid. Avoid cupboards above the stove or oven as they can get hot.

People on certain biologic medications may need to store medications below 8ºC, and you may need a cool bag to keep them at the correct temperature when bringing them home from the pharmacy and when traveling on holidays. Pharmaceutical companies will often provide special travel packs. Talk to your pharmacist for more information.

Preparing meals in summer and for special occasions

We tend to gather more regularly in the summer to enjoy good company, good food and good weather. However, this can cause stress, especially if it’s a big event or if you put pressure on yourself for everything to be ‘perfect’. And when the temps are high, as they often are in summer, this can add to your fatigue and discomfort.

Here are some simple steps to help you create and enjoy meals in a way that saves you energy and frustration, leaving you with more time to enjoy your family and friends:

  • Separate your tasks into small steps so that you can plan ahead and prepare things over time rather than in a rush.
  • Consider ordering your food and groceries online and having them delivered. Check out the websites of your local traders for more information.
  • When buying groceries, consider the pre-cut or pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. This will save you time and effort when preparing meals.
  • A range of kitchen utensils is available, including knives and peelers with wide easy-grip handles that make things easier when you’re cooking. Check out our online shop to see some gadgets that can make life easier
  • Remember that vegetables are easier to chop after they’ve been cooked.
  • If you have difficulty carrying saucepans and draining the water when cooking pasta or veggies, use a metal colander or wire basket slightly smaller than the saucepan. Put the food into the colander and place it in the saucepan. Once the food’s cooked, simply lift the colander out of the saucepan. Or ask someone to do this for you.
  • Share the load and have people bring a plate. You don’t have to do everything. And it gives everyone a chance to bring their favourite new recipe 😊.
  • When you head to the park or the beach, be on the lookout for outdoor tables where you can comfortably sit to enjoy your picnic, rather than having to sit on the ground or carry portable chairs.

Medical cooling concessions and rebates

These concessions provide a discount on summer electricity costs for concession cardholders who have specific medical conditions that affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Visit your state/territory website to find out if you’re eligible for this concession:

Tips for surviving the summer from our volunteers

  • Exercise in the morning when it’s cooler.
  • In very hot weather, go for your daily walk in air-conditioned shopping centres, rather than outside in the heat.
  • Don’t forget to protect your feet. Put sunscreen on any exposed skin and wear supportive shoes.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated.
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of light salads.
  • Prepare and pre-cook meals in the morning when you have more energy and when it’s a bit cooler. You can then reheat it in the evening.
  • Have your air conditioner serviced so that it’s more efficient.
  • Take ice packs when shopping to keep perishable goods cold.
  • Think about doing your shopping online and having it delivered.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Sunshine.jpg
13/Jan/2021

It’s warming up all over the country, and that means getting out with our family and friends and enjoying some much needed fun in the sun.

Aside from the enjoyment we get from being outdoors, exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is vital for our bone health. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D, which helps our body absorb calcium.

But we need to balance our desire to be outdoors and getting our daily dose of vitamin D, with protecting ourselves against sunburn, skin cancer, photosensitivity and flares.

So let’s explore each of these issues and look at how to stay safe this summer.

Sunburn and skin cancer

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap’ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the harsh Australian summer sun. After all the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is the major cause of skin cancer and we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

And yet we compliment people when they return from a holiday on how tanned they look. For some reason we associate tanned skin with good health.

However the Cancer Council advises us that “there is no such thing as a safe tan…tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma.

So protecting our skin is vital, but we still need some exposure to the sun to produce vitamin D.

You can do that safely by exposing your hands, face and arms to the sun most days. But you’ll need to take into account factors such as where you live, the time of the year and the complexion of your skin. They all affect how long you can be exposed to the sun safely. Osteoporosis Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

As well as the length of time to expose your skin, you also need to know the safest time of the day to do so. Whenever the UV index reaches 3 and above, most people need to use sun protection.

You can check your local UV Index by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology website or downloading the SunSmart app.

Photosensitivity and flares

Exposure to the sun can be an issue for many people with conditions such as lupus, dermatomyositis and Sjogren’s syndrome. Sun exposure can cause rashes, lesions and flare ups.

Some medications used to treat musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other, more general medications, can also cause your skin to be sensitive to sunlight. This includes antibiotics, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (such as methotrexate), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as diclofenac and ibuprofen), antidepressants and oral contraceptives.

So that sucks. Especially when you’re gazing out your window at a lovely summery day.

The good news is you can enjoy the sun despite all of this

There are lots of things you can do to enjoy the sun safely, without risking your skin. And most of the things you do to protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancer, will also help prevent photosensitivity and rashes.

  • Embrace sunscreen! It’s your new best friend. Make sure it’s broad spectrum – this means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays – and that it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Slather it on. We really don’t use enough sunscreen. The Cancer Council advises that we need to apply it 20 minutes before we go outside. And that we use about a teaspoon for EACH arm, leg, front of our body, back of our body, as well as our face (including lips, neck and ears). That works out to be seven teaspoons of sunscreen. And you need to reapply at least every two hours. Find out more from the Cancer Council.
  • If you wear makeup, apply your sunscreen before you moisturise and put on makeup.
  • Choose your summer clothing and hats carefully. Not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark fabric with a tight weave and covers most of your skin, especially when the UV levels are high. Make sure your hat shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5cm provide excellent protection.
  • Seek out the shade. Make sure you have places to go where you can retreat from the sun.
  • Keep a sun umbrella handy – or be fancy and use a parasol – just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly or shady places are hard to find.
  • Try to stay out of the sun when UV levels are high (check your SunSmart app or BOM).
  • Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.
  • Talk with your doctor about your medications if you think they’re making you photosensitive. You may be able to use an alternative medication.
  • Don’t forget your sunglasses. We also need to protect our eyes from the UV rays, as the sun can cause serious eye damage. So make sure you grab your sunnies before heading out the door.
  • During warmer weather, you should also ensure that you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

As the mercury soars, summer presents us all with a number of challenges, but also a lot of great times.
Remember to pace yourself, stay well hydrated and protect yourself by following the simple rules of slip, slop, slap, seek, slide. Most importantly, make the most of our warmer weather and enjoy it!

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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