Dr Nické Theron, Pediatrician.
After surviving two loooong, wet winters in Belgium, and one lock-down winter in SA, we are so happy to see and enjoy the sun in South Africa for Christmas this year! We are so lucky with the beautiful warm, long days, our stunning beaches and even our yards with private swimming pools that our kids can play and explore in!
I want to discuss a few topics with you so you and your kids can enjoy the summer safely this year:
Sunlight consists of light and Ultra Violet (UV) rays that are invisible, but can cause a lot of damage to your skin. UVA rays can penetrate through glass and cloud-cover and contribute to sunburn, premature wrinkles and aging and cumulative exposure can cause skin cancer. UVB rays can be blocked out easily, have a higher concentration late morning and early afternoon, causes sunburn and also contributes to the risk of skin cancer. The delicate skin around your eyes and the eye-structures itself are also vulnerable to sun-damage.
Once the UV rays have caused changes in your child’s skin, you cannot undo it. The risks for skin-cancer are cumulative and thus prevention is sooo important while they are too small to look after their own skin. None of these tips are 100% effective, please apply as many of them as possible at the same time to keep your kids safe from the sun.
- Cover up: dress your children in light-weight clothes that covers as much as possible of their skin. Choose a wide-rim hat that covers the face and neck, front and back. Teach them to wear sunglasses (important to make sure they offer UV protection too).
- Shade: Let them play in the shade of a tree or an umbrella but remember that shade alone is not enough as some UV rays can bounce off water, sand, concrete and glass or penetrate through the leaves or material.
- Timing: Try to stay out of the sun between 10am to 3pm to avoid the highest concentration of UVB rays.
- Babies under 6 months should be kept out of the sun or covered up as much as possible. Sunscreen might be irritating on their delicate skins and is thus not advised.
- Sunscreen: There are so many different makes, formulations and delivery systems when it comes to sunscreens that it can be hard to choose. What makes a “good” sunscreen?
- The Skin cancer foundation advises that ALL children should use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher that is water resistant and broad spectrum (covers both UVA and UVB). SPF tells you how long the UVB rays will take to redden your skin when using the product when compared to the time without sunscreen. Be careful of products that promises an SPF of more than 50 as it is not actually much more effective.
- Sunscreens that contain Zinc oxide or Titanium dioxide (“mineral sunscreens”) creates a physical barrier against the UV rays. It thus contains less chemicals and can be better to use in children with sensitive skin.
- In the end the best sunscreen is the one you will use every day! Have one in your car, your handbag, your nappy-bag and at home so that you can apply sunscreen to your kids regularly (every 2hrs that they will be in the sun) and generously (you need about a shot-size glass full to cover all the exposed areas). Set a good example for your kids and make this a non-negotiable for everyone in your household.
Tanning is already a sign of skin damage as it shows that the melanin in the skin has already increased to help absorb the UV rays to protect the skin. Children who naturally have more melanin and darker skin are better protected against skin damage, but it does not mean that they cannot also burn and accumulate risk for skin cancers.
The dangerous thing about sunburn is that there are almost no symptoms while it is happening. The redness, blisters and pain can still develop 1 – 4 hours after the damage was done, and it can get worse up to 24hrs later. If you suspect that your child burned, give some Ibuprufen (eg Nurofen) as soon as possible to help contain the inflammatory response to the burn. Let your child take a cool bath or shower and apply Aloe-Verox ointment to the affected areas to soothe the burn. Make sure to moisturize the areas to assist in skin-repair and prevent itching. Do not break blisters, they protect the skin underneath and help it to heal in a sterile environment.
“They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.”Revelation 7:16
Some parts of our beautiful country can reach temperatures in the 40s in the heat of the day. How do children cope with that and when is it dangerous?
Children have a higher metabolic rate, so they produce more heat from within their bodies. They also sweat less and thus cannot regulate heat as well as an adult. They are thus more prone to dehydration, overheating and heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and the life-threatening emergency heat stroke.
Dehydration – when your child’s fluid intake is less than his fluid losses. Children loose fluid in urine, stools and vomit, and also from breathing and sweating. Signs of dehydration: irritability, thirst, dry lips and tongue, sunken fontanel, lack of energy.
Heat exhaustion – when a child becomes dehydrated or is very active on a very hot or humid day, the body cannot cool down fast enough and heat exhaustion can develop. Signs: headache, severe thirst, muscle cramps, dizziness or confusion, excessive sweating, pale and clammy skin, body temperature 38-40°C.
Heat stroke – this is a medical emergency that happens when the natural cooling and coping mechanisms of the body is overwhelmed. It can happen when a child is trapped in a very hot environment such as a car, or if a dehydrated child is very active in a hot environment. Signs: Body temperature > 40°C, abnormal mental state such as confusion, disorientation or convulsions. No sweating, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath.
- Encourage your child to drink cool water frequently even though they are not yet thirsty. Offer your smaller baby more frequent breast or bottle feeds. You can also offer boiled and cooled water in a bottle or sippy cup in between milk feeds.
- Keep children in a cool, shady area with good ventilation or air flow during the warmest times of the day.
- NEVER leave children in a car. The temperatures in a car can climb up to 30-40°C higher than the outside temperature within 5min of closing the car.
- Make sure that prams and car seats have good ventilation, do not cover with heavy blankets.
- Take cool baths or showers or spray water on your clothes or skin to cool down.
- Wear light coloured, loose clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
- Please seek medical help immediately if you think that your child has heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
So get ready for some sun-safe days of endless swimming, splashing, eating watermelons and ice-lollies!
What is your favourite summer-activities? Send us your photos of your little with their hats!
(The next article will give more information about water-safety and bug-safety.)