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First Aid Reminders for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis: Summer Edition
Protect and soothe your skin against the season’s stings, cuts, and burns to avoid RA complications.
By Cheryl Alkon
Medically Reviewed by Alexa Meara, MD
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When the weather’s warm and sunny, and the air is dry, it feels fantastic to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. But for people living with a chronic condition like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s important to be aware of the potential problems that warm weather activities can bring, such as sunburn, rashes, insect bites, and blisters. Here’s what to do to avoid these bummers, and what to do if they happen, to make sure you don’t get an infection.
Cover, Monitor, and Treat Skin Injuries
To protect your skin against anything sharp, stinging, or burning, consider wearing long pants, long sleeves, a hat with a wide brim, and long socks when you go outside, says Shraddha Jatwani, MD, rheumatologist at Henry Ford Allegiance Rheumatology in Jackson, Michigan. Also use sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher and insect repellent, she adds.
Examine your skin regularly so that you know what ticks and tick bites look like, as well as to notice any new scrapes, cuts, or bites. If you’re going to be out and about, bring alcohol wipes and Band-Aids with you to be able to treat skin issues as they arise, says Dr. Jatwani.
Mind Your Medication
Wear broad spectrum sunscreen to prevent sunburn and reduce your risk for skin cancer. Your skin may be more likely to burn if your RA medication causes sun sensitivity. What’s more, some treatments for RA may predispose people to skin cancer as well as rare cancers, says Mark Lebwohl, MD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. These treatments include biologic drugs, such as Enbrel (etanercept), Humira (adalimumab), and Remicade (infliximab). Immunosuppressive drugs, such as Trexall (methotrexate) and prednisone, are also linked to an increased risk of developing skin cancer. “The bottom line: wear sunscreen,” says Dr. Lebwohl.
Clean and Bandage Cuts and Scrapes
Maybe you brushed against a scratchy tree branch or slipped on some pine needles and skinned a knee. Treat cuts and scrapes effectively to protect against methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a common bacteria that can cause skin infections that may lead to pneumonia or sepsis. “MRSA is the most common cause of infection in the United States, and for cuts and scrapes, you need to clean them well and cover them,” says Lebwohl. Soap and water is fine, and while alcohol stings, it’s very good against MRSA. Regular bandages are adequate, but keep a close eye on things. “If the wound is red, hot, or has pus, then it certainly needs to be seen by a physician, and ideally a dermatologist,” he says.
The Importance of Water
Staying hydrated is important for everyone, but people living with RA need to be extra cautious about dehydration, according to Jatwani. “Skin tends to crack easily if a person is dehydrated, which can lead to infection. Especially when you go out in the sun, drink a lot of water,” she says. She recommends drinking 2 to 3 liters of water a day, or 8 to 12 glasses a day, if spending time in the sun, and 6 to 8 glasses a day if not in the sun.
“People with RA are no different than anybody else: They should avoid getting into these situations if possible.” But, she explains, those with RA have to be a little more cautious when they find themselves in a situation that causes skin lacerations or burns. “Promptly treat the issue and contact a physician,” says Jatwani.
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