Solar Injuries

Solar injuries can happen in warm weather or in cold weather. These types of injuries can be just as incapacitating as most other injuries but usually are not fatal. The peak hours of ultraviolet (UV) radiation are between the hours of 1100 and 1500. Due to the long wavelengths of ultraviolet light, cloudy days can be more dangerous than sunny days. On sunny days the soldier takes more care due to the bright conditions. On cloudy days the soldier tends not to wear sunglasses or sunscreen.

a. Sunburn. Sunburn is the burning of exposed skin surfaces by ultraviolet radiation.

(1) Contributing factors include fair skin, improper use of para-amino benzoic acid (PABA)-based sunscreens, and exposure to intense ultraviolet rays for extended periods.

(2) Symptoms of sunburn are painful, burning, red or blistered skin with a slight swelling. The skin may be warm to the touch. In severe cases chills, fever, and headaches may occur.

(3) To treat sunburn, apply cool saline dressings to alleviate pain and swelling. Do not pop blisters. If blisters do break, wash thoroughly, bandage, and seek medical attention. A solution of vinegar (acetic) and water can be lightly applied with sterile gauze to alleviate burning. The tannic acid in used tea bags can also be applied to alleviate burning. Administer pain medication if needed.

(4) To prevent sunburn, skin should be covered with clothing or PABA-based sunscreens (at least sun protection factor [SPF] 15) should be applied liberally to exposed skin during the peak hours of UV exposure. The SPF means that you can stay exposed to the suns UV rays that many times longer than without it. (For example, an SPF of 15 means that skin can be exposed to UV rays 15 times longer than without sunscreen.) During sustained activity, the sunscreen should be regularly reapplied to maintain the SPF.

b. Snowblindness. Snowblindness is sunburn of the cornea of the eye caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

(1) A contributing factor is the reflection of sunlight from all directions off the snow, ice, and water. Ultraviolet rays can cause vision problems even on cloudy days. They are less filtered at high altitudes than at low altitudes.

(2) Symptoms of snowblindness are painful, red, watery eyes; a gritty feeling; blurred vision; and a headache.

(3) To treat snowblindness, patch both eyes with cold compresses for 24 hours. Topical anesthetics such as Tetracaine Ophthalmic can be used to relieve pain. Avoid rubbing the eyes. If still painful, keep the victim's eyes patched and administer oral pain medication. Snowblindness will usually resolve in about 24 hours for mild to moderate cases. Victims are rarely in need of evacuation unless the case is unusually severe.

(4) To prevent snow blindness, use quality sunglasses even on cloudy days in snow-covered terrain. Proper sunglasses should provide 100 percent UVA and UVB protection and have hoods on the sides to prevent reflected light from entering the eye. (Currently, the U.S. Army does not have these types of "glacier" sunglasses in their inventory and they must be acquired from nonmilitary sources.) In an emergency, improvise slit glasses from materials such as cardboard or birch bark.

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