Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Sun is fun but you need to take precautions

Airplane in a sunny sky

If you’re out in the sun – maybe taking in Quesnel’s SkyFest this weekend – be sure to take precautions like wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

I just heard about a new skin disease. Well, it’s as new to me as this lump on my head. Funny, that! Here’s what happened:

Bald guy shaves head, notices a lump about size of sixpence (bigger than a penny, smaller than a nickel for you Canadians!) that feels like sandpaper and is real itchy.

Bald guy’s inside voice thinks, “What is that? Don’t know, but it’s OK.”

Eventually, I visit my doc for something else.

Lo and behold, the doctor he sees the lump and pronounces: actinic keratosis!

“What’s that about my hairy toes?” I think.

Actinic keratosis. The sun has damaged my skin. I mention this because as we age, it is so easy to discount certain things as occurring “just because” we are getting older. Some of them are linked to simply getting older and some are not, so it really is best to get thoroughly checked out if you’re suspicious of anything. It can do no harm. I messed up this time and should’ve connected with my doctor after that first itch. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

I had had this lump for about 4 months and thought, “it’s OK, it will heal next week.” And then when it did not heal, I would say to myself, “it does not look like a melanoma to me, so I will wait and see.” And so I waited 4 months and finally asked my doctor as an aside after much prompting from wife.

So, looking back and given the fact that I am always telling others to get checkups, why did I just ignore the lump and my own advice and chalk it up to “getting older”? I think that I did so for the same reason as a lot of other guys do: I just thought that this was no big deal. That I would be OK. Luckily for me, I was – but what if I was not?

Actinic keratosis is a skin disorder that can be pre-cancerous but, luckily, is very easily treated with nitrous oxide. It can, however, develop into squamous cell cancer, which, although also easily removed, can get into the lymphatic system and spread. This, of course, is not such a good outcome but is mostly avoidable by paying attention to the skin around the areas exposed to the sun, like the top of your head, ears, face, shoulders and chest.

So, sun is fun, but make sure you cover up and take precautions! HealthLink BC has some information about that.

I am a pink flamingo, never tanned in my life, but I do like the sun. Even today, I caught myself out in the yard without a hat.

Doing the right thing is not so easy sometimes, but my summertime resolution is to cover up and wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen and shades when I am outdoors. Even if I add long sleeves and pants to the mix, there is no reason why I should not be still enjoying the good weather.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: There’s no smoke without fire

Stuart Lake

Keep an eye on air quality before planning your days this summer! With wildfires raging and dry conditions so far this year, not all days will be as clear as this beautiful afternoon at Stuart Lake!

With B.C. wildfires – including plenty in northern B.C. – dominating the headlines recently, I’m worried.

I’m worried that soon – and for some of you this may already be the case – I will be stuck indoors as outside there will be two enemies of my personal health which will keep me imprisoned:

  1. The smell of smoke in the air from a forest fire, which makes me cough.
  2. That lovely sun, which recently hit 32 degrees for me, even in the shade. I took my wall thermometer off the wall to see what the temperature would be if I placed it in the sun. Within minutes it went to 42 degrees! Standing still for any length of time will do that to your skin, too! 42 degrees. Holy smokes! It was not quite a scientific experiment, but all the same, it was very hot!

The recent headlines and my past experiences during this time of year got me thinking about wellness and all the other issues related to these two conditions, like air quality advisories and sunscreen.

At one point last year, my local air quality health index was at 7, which is high risk. Given the current fire situation, I suspect that I’ll see that number again this year – some of you may have already. You can check your local air quality at bcairquality.ca.

So, what’s the advice given to those of us with respiratory ailments, children and the elderly at these levels?

Take it easy, stay indoors if you can (well, yes, it may also be plus 30!), and try and avoid strenuous activities during the period of the warning. This, I should say, also applies to the general population. If you are working outside and it’s causing you to cough, maybe you should take it easy, too. Catch up with the yard work another time.

And did I mention sun? I don’t think I have to tell folks these days that as beautiful as it is, it also harbours some dangers in the form of skin cancer from too much exposure. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and spend as little time in the sun as possible. Higher SPF doesn’t mean you can stay out longer! Also, try to cover up as much skin as possible, especially if you are as fair as I am, and especially on top of your head.

Lastly, keep an eye on local air quality advisories, especially if there are forest fires out in your area as exposure to smoke and particulates can trigger asthma and worsen other respiratory ailments.

Happy holidays!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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