sealPurdue Lifestyles, Education, Careers Briefs

August 2000

Medications may increase sensitivity to sunlight

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Applying a sunscreen may help protect against the sun's burning rays, but if you're taking a medication, you may need to take additional precautions, says a Purdue University pharmacy expert.

Many widely used medications can cause an increased sensitivity to light in some individuals, resulting in hives, rashes, or other skin eruptions, says Gail Newton, associate professor of pharmacy practice.

These problems, called photosensitivity reactions, can occur when a person is exposed to sunlight and other types of ultraviolet light for even brief amounts of time, Newton says. Exposure to UV light in tanning beds and indirect sun exposure – such as light reflected off pavement – also can trigger these reactions.

Though dozens of medications may cause this problem, some of the more commonly used medications include some antihistamines, used in cold and allergy medicines; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, used to control pain and inflammation; and antibiotics, including the tetracyclines and "sulfa" drugs, Newton says.

Other medications containing photoreactive agents include some antidepressants, antibiotics, anti-psychotics, cancer chemotherapy, cardiovascular drugs, diuretics and oral diabetes medications. The herbal remedy St. John's wort, sometimes used to treat depression, also has been associated with photosensitivity, she says.

"The exact reaction to sunlight exposure depends on the drug being used," she says. "With some medications, sunlight exposure can trigger a fine red rash, with others, patients burn more severely or more quickly than normal."

Though these drugs do not directly increase the risk of skin cancer, serious sunburns, particularly in children, have been associated with an increased incidence of skin cancers later in life, Newton says.

People using these types of medications should take extra precautions in the sun, Newton says.

"Ideally, people should avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight while using one of these medications," she says. "When exposure cannot be avoided, people should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, preferably 30."

Newton recommends checking sunscreen labels for the ingredients zinc oxide, titanium oxide or avobenzone, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

"Though most sunburns are caused by UVB rays, some photosensitivity reactions are triggered by UVA rays," she says.

Newton says additional precautions include:

• Following the label directions. At least one full ounce – about three quarter-size dollops – of sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to exposure. The product should be reapplied after swimming or excessive sweating.

• Wearing protective clothing. Wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and tightly-woven, long-sleeved shirts and pants are recommended.

• Avoiding exposure during the high intensity hours of sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Though medications associated with photosensitivity often come with warning labels, Newton says consumers may contact their pharmacist with questions on the risk of photosensitivity associated with any specific medication.

CONTACT: Gail Newton, (765) 494-1473,

Expert: Music education can begin, flourish at home

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University child development specialist says parents can be the lead conductors in making sure their children reap the benefits of music education – even if the programs available to them at school are limited.

"Research shows that involvement in music programs improves a child's early cognitive development, basic math and reading abilities, spatial reasoning skills, standardized test scores, self-discipline, ability to work in teams, self-esteem and school attendance," says Judith Myers-Walls, an extension specialist and professor of child development and family studies. "Yet band and orchestra classes are among the first to be cut back or eliminated when public schools face a funding shortage."

Myers-Walls, herself the mother of two musically inclined children, says making the home environment supportive of music interests and activities can go a long way, even if there is no formal instrumental music program offered at school.

"It's never too early to expose your child to all different kinds of music," she says. "In addition to the usual recordings of lullabies for babies, play the music or radio stations you like to listen to and look for opportunities to take children to live performances, like free concerts in the park and parades."

Once a child decides to take up an instrument and both the parents and music teacher feel he or she is ready for instruction, family members need to be prepared for what they will hear.

"Beginning musicians are not all that much fun to listen to, and this can be especially challenging for parents if they've never played an instrument themselves," Myers-Walls concedes. "Be sure to choose a teacher who understands kids and is encouraging of their efforts without pushing too hard."

Myers-Walls says it's important to help the child develop good practice habits, and that may mean arranging the environment to be both supportive and forgiving.

"Depending on the instrument, you may need to find a relatively sound-proof place for the child to practice, or alternately, a place for the rest of the family to go during practice times," she explains.

Finally, Myers-Walls says parents need to support performance opportunities when the child is ready for them.

"School band and orchestra programs generally hold regular concerts, and private music teachers will often arrange recitals for their students, " Myers-Walls says. "Plan to attend as many of them as you can and encourage siblings to attend as well. Making it a family event can bolster a young musician's confidence and encourage younger brothers and sisters to take up an instrument."

CONTACT: Judith Myers-Walls, (765) 494-2959,

Changing of the gourd:
Ripe watermelon has telltale signs

VINCENNES, Ind. – Choosing a great-tasting watermelon for summer feasts doesn't have to be a game of chance. A Purdue University expert says consumers can improve their odds of topping off a meal with the perfect dewy-sweet treat if they examine the fruit carefully before buying.

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Daniel Egel, a pest management specialist at the Southwest-Purdue Agricultural Center, said a watermelon's appearance and feel are better gauges than the time-honored practice of tapping on the outer skin. Egel formerly worked for a watermelon seed company as a plant pathologist.

"There are some things I look for when I go to the supermarket or roadside stand," Egel said. "With me, I downplay 'thumping' the watermelon. In the field they don't stop to thump the watermelons, they just look at them."

The watermelon rind often provides clues to its ripeness, Egel said.

"A watermelon that is ripe will be faded on the top. If the watermelon has stripes, look at the area between the stripes. This area should be a light green," he said.

"Turn the watermelon over and look at the place where the fruit stood on the ground. If the watermelon is ripe, the 'belly spot' will be white or yellow. If you can see the stripes through the belly spot, it may not be ripe."

A smooth rind usually indicates a good fruit. "You might try to avoid melons that are over-lumpy," Egel said. "Sometimes that may mean the rind on the inside is discolored, which is unappealing to some people."

Watermelons at the peak of ripeness are normally filled out and blunt on the ends. Melons with pointy ends may still be maturing and are not as delicious, Egel said.

Consumers who still want to thump the watermelon should listen closely when their finger flicks the fruit. "An unripe watermelon will 'ping' when thumped. An overripe watermelon will 'thud.' The one you want to buy is somewhere in between," Egel said. Egel also recommended checking the watermelon for a shipper's or grower's sticker. "Remember the name on the sticker so that you can buy another of the same brand or avoid it, depending on your experience," he said.

CONTACT: Daniel Egel, (812) 886-0198;

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS:  A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Egel.watermelon

Compiled by Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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