That bright orb in the sky, that average star in an ordinary galaxy, that object we call the sun is what makes most life, as we know it, possible on this otherwise unremarkable planet. We have so much to thank the sun for: the temperature of our atmosphere; the energy supply that allows plants to photosynthesize and, directly or indirectly, feeds almost everything on earth; the light that enables us to see and enjoy the beauty of the things around us. But the sun can also “do us dirt” to the point that we should be careful.
H’s stepfather was an interesting person in many ways – he loved his hometown and his garden, he was on his own from age 12, and he was blind in one eye. He was blind in that eye because as a young man he looked directly at the sun and burned his retina so badly that he had absolutely no vision in the affected eye. So, don’t look at the sun!
There are much more subtle and common ways that glorious star can and does harm us. The sun’s invisible ultra-violet rays are reported to be a major factor in the development of the cataracts that impact the vision of so many of us as we age.
The other major adverse impact the sun has on us is caused by those same ultra-violet rays. Ultra-violet rays striking us penetrate the skin to varying degrees and damage the cells’ DNA. That damage creates mutations that can result in skin cancer of several kinds. Physicians report that both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are caused by exposure to ultra-violet rays.
For over 50 years I’ve been spending the majority of both my professional and recreational days in forest and field. Except in winter’s cold, on most of those days I went without a hat of any sort, it’s only been for the last 15 years that a hat has regularly been atop my slowly balding pate. More recently I’ve adopted broad-brimmed hats to replace those baseball-style caps.
And for the last few years at each of my annual visits to the dermatologist one or more precancerous lesions or basal cell carcinomas have been removed. Some by surgical excision and some by freezing; this is one of the most recently frozen carcinomas after four days, a touch of frostbite –
Just about a year ago a more serious squamous cell carcinoma was removed by a special surgical technique that resulted in 22 tiny sutures on my cheek –
A year later the incision has completely healed and the scar is barely visible.
Those of us who work and play outdoors know that our skin will take a beating over the years: insect bites, adverse reactions to plants like poison-ivy or stinging nettles, lots of cuts and scrapes, frostbitten ears or noses and the possibility of skin cancer.
The sun is not just a harmless source of heat and light; it damages us also – so beware the sun!