Children’s sun sense starts with parents

It’s not just sunburn that’s dangerous for children. Tanning can also cause permanent skin damage, and that damage could increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. Protecting young children and teenagers from the sun’s harmful rays is particularly important because research indicates that most sun damage to the skin occurs before a child reaches 18 years of age.

Before allowing children to go outdoors in the warm weather, make sure they apply sunscreen (even on cloudy days!) that has an SPF rating of 30 or higher and that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours while in the sun, as well as, after swimming or after activities that cause a lot of perspiration. Keep in mind, too, that most individuals routinely apply too little sunscreen, especially when using the newer spray on varieties. The same goes for sunscreen sticks, which do not always provide the best protection against sunburn. Shirts, sunglasses and hats with brims are important added layers of prevention for children who are out in the summer sun. It’s sometimes difficult to get older children and teenagers to apply sunscreen; however, you can encourage them simply by being a good role model, who covers up and uses sunscreen before going outdoors.

If, despite your best efforts, your child becomes sunburned, treatment involves keeping the child comfortable and knowing the signs that indicate a need to consult a physician.

The first step for treating sunburn is to keep the child out of the sun until the burn is completely healed. Apply aloe lotion frequently to all affected areas to soothe the burning sensation. You can give a child an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help to relieve any pain or discomfort. Of the two, ibuprofen may be more effective as it will also help to reduce any inflammation, also be sure the child has eaten before taking ibuprofen. Follow all label directions carefully when giving either medication to a child. To help prevent peeling skin, frequently apply a good quality, fragrance-free moisturizing lotion. Sunburn will often cause an uncomfortable itching sensation. If this is keeping your child from being able to rest, you can give him or her an over-the-counter antihistamine; however, again, carefully follow label instructions for the correct dose.

Contact your pediatrician if your sunburned child begins to vomit, develops a fever, is not able to be comfortable, or if you notice the formation of blisters on your child’s skin. You also need to call the physician for advice whenever a child younger than one year old experiences a sunburn.

It is never safe to leave a child in a parked vehicle, even for a minute. Interior car temperatures can increase nearly 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. If you do leave a child in a parked car and return to find that child asleep, don’t assume the child is napping. Confusion or lethargy could be signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Remove the child from the car immediately, and if the child is unresponsive, call 911.

Originally Published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 06/08

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