‘Excessive sun exposure harmful’

Photo by SS KANESAN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can increase during the current hot spell, can lead to people developing heat-related complications, experts say.

With the country sizzling under the hot sun and some states recording temperatures of 35ºC, health experts urge the public to be cautious about overexposure to UV rays.

Public health expert Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming of Universiti Malaya said the risks or dangers of being exposed to high UV levels include skin cancer (melanoma and nonmelanoma), premature ageing and other skin damage, cataracts and other eye damage, as well as immune system suppression.

To stay safe, she recommended avoiding overexposure to the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed, breathable hat or using an umbrella.

ALSO READ: MetMalaysia: Extreme heat brings serious health risks

“Limit your time in the sun, especially between 11am and 4pm,” she said, adding that sunglasses and sunscreen can also be worn for extra protection.

Sunglasses should be the ones that provide protection against UVA and UVB rays, while sunscreen should have at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15, said Prof Moy.

On the other hand, she pointed out that humans do need some sunlight for the synthesis of vitamin D via the skin.

“Exposure of the face and arms to the adequate sunlight wavelength (UVB radiation of 290–370 nm) for 15 to 30 minutes, from 11am to 3pm daily, should be enough to maintain adequate vitamin D status,” said Prof Moy, citing a 2007 study by Dr Michael Holick.

Meanwhile, a local study found that the overall prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (<20 ng>

Indian participants or 80.9%, had the highest proportion of vitamin D deficiency, followed by Malays at 75.6%, others at 44.9%, and Chinese at 25.1%, said Prof Moy.

“These differences could be due to skin pigmentation and clothing style.

“In addition, avoiding sunlight and working indoors may also be reasons for inadequate sun exposure for the synthesis of vitamin D,” she added.

Public health expert Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said that people will be exposed to UV rays more than usual during the hot spell, which in the long term can be harmful to health.

“A lot of literature has shown the relationship between prolonged UV exposure and skin cancer but very short durations can also cause skin irritation and skin rashes that occur because of the heat in UV light,” she said.

She said everyone must be aware of the possibility of heat stroke and heat stress occurring, especially for those who work outdoors and are exposed to the sun and heat for long periods, such as policemen, Road Transport Department (JPJ) officers, delivery riders and lorry drivers.

“As for children, they can succumb to the heat very fast.

“Parents should take them to healthcare providers if their body temperatures are high to check if they’re having fever or heat exhaustion, as these two can mimic each other,” she said, adding that children are more susceptible as they are not able to thermoregulate themselves as well as adults can.

Prof Sharifa Ezat also called on policymakers to pay attention to the country’s food security, as some other countries are facing decreased food access and security due to the hot weather.

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