What are they?
Both sunburn and sunstroke are quite common in Australia and can occur at any time of year, whether it is sunny or not!
Sunburn is the skin’s reaction to the ultraviolet radiation (UV) in sunlight and in summer it can occur in as little as 15 minutes. Children’s delicate skin needs special attention as sunburn can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage, as well as increase the risk of future skin cancer.
Sunstroke – or heatstroke - occurs when too much fluid is lost from your child’s body and their core temperature rises above 40.5 degrees. In this situation their internal systems start to shut down. Sunstroke can be caused by the exposure to the sun, but can also be caused by strenuous activity or high environmental temperatures. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency and you should seek immediate medical attention.
What are the symptoms?
People can feel the heat of the sun but they cannot feel the UV radiation that burns them. Common symptoms of sunburn include:
- A change in skin colour. Unfortunately skin colour doesn’t begin to change until after it has been burnt, so it is not a warning system. The skin will continue to change colour up to three days after being burnt.
- Skin that becomes painful to touch. Even if the colour is not very obvious, children’s skin can be painful to the touch of clothing, water and people. The skin may feel hot when you touch it.
- Chills, fever and headaches.
- Swelling and blistering. Your child may develop fluid-filled blisters, which may eventually pop or break.
While sunburn is serious, sunstroke can cause life-threatening organ failure. Symptoms to watch out for include:
• A very high body temperature and a rapid pulse
• Red, hot skin and a dry swollen tongue
• Dark-coloured urine with a strong smell
• A throbbing headache and muscle cramps
• Disorientation or confusion
• Possible nausea and loss of consciousness
What are the treatments?
There is no cure for sunburn; it is a matter of making your child feel comfortable while their skin heals. Some ways to do that include:
1. Ensuring they keep well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water
2. Moisturising the skin
3. Applying cool compresses or a cool bath
4. Avoiding the use of soap products
5. Using pain relief, such as paracetamol
6. Avoiding exposure to the sun until every sign of sunburn is gone
If your child has extensive blistering or pain, or develops nausea, vomiting or headaches you should seek medical treatment.
Suspected sunstroke requires immediate medical attention! You should call 000 for an ambulance and while you are waiting you should:
- Keep you rchild shaded and kept cool in whatever way you can. That might involve a cool shower or bath, covering them with cool, damp cloths, applying icepacks to their wrists, armpits, groin and side of neck or fanning them vigorously
- Try to keep your child hydrated
- If they are unconscious, ensure that you keep their airway clear
- Seek further instructions from the 000 operator
Prevention is of course better than a cure, and some ways to help prevent sunburn and sunstroke are as follows.
The five S’s! The Victorian Cancer Council encourages parents and children to remember the five Sunsmart steps, being:
1. Slide on some sunglasses
2. Seek shade
3. Slap on a hat
4. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
5. Slip on some sun-protective clothing
The Bureau of Meteorology issues a UV Index forecast every day; you can check the UV index for your location by clicking here
To help prevent sunstroke:
• Encourage your child to drink plenty of water, to avoid dehydration
• Try to time strenuous activities for early or later in the day, while the weather is cooler
• Stay in the shade as much as possible and keep the air circulating
• Never leave your children in a hot, enclosed space such as a car.
• Wear cool, lightweight clothing and a hat with a wide brim
• Swimming or cooling down in a shower or bath can keep your child’s core temperature down.
NSW Department of Health Factsheet: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/factsheets/environmental/heat_stroke.html