Keeping Summer Safe for Your Children

By ALISON MITZNER, MD

Little girl on beach in blue swimsuit holding beach ball, keeping summer safe for children

As a mom, I love summer. It is such a great time to enjoy the outdoors – beaches, parks, swimming and more. And as a mom and a pediatrician, I also know that applying sunblock to your little one (except babies younger than 6 months) is easier said than done and one battle worth fighting for! Severe sunburns are not only quite painful, but can also increase your child’s risk of skin cancer over time.

So how can you avoid sunburn? 

Infants younger than 6 months should stay out of the sun as much as possible. If outside, ensure they are kept in the shade and have a hat and sunglasses and other sun-protective clothing. They should not use sunblock as it is not recommended to use sunblock on children less than 6 months old. The chemicals are too harsh for their skin and as their skin is much thinner than that of adults, the active chemical ingredients in sunblock are more easily absorbed.

For children over 6 months, when outside, avoid peak sun hours – 10 am-2 pm generally – and ensure your child is well protected with a hat or sunglasses and sunblock. Buy a product that is ‘broad spectrum’ and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It should be SPF 15 or higher.

It is important to apply the product 15 minutes before going outside, as it needs to absorb to start working. Put in on thick all over. I always make sure that I see white on the skin as I rub it in. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours and also after your child sweats, goes in the pool or gets wet! It is also is a good idea to try a new product on a little area of the skin several days prior to use to see if your child has a reaction to it. If you see any rash, try a different product. Also, it is important to look at the ingredients and discuss with your pediatrician to review what ingredients you should avoid for your child in the future.

Another option is a sunblock with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These both provide UVA and UVB protection and are not chemicals, so they are great for children with sensitive skin and won’t usually cause a reaction. You don’t have to apply it in advance because sunblock with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide works by sitting on top of the skin to protect from the sun. It is not absorbed and will start working as soon as you put it on.

How to avoid heat-related illnesses

Another important concern during the hot summer months is heat related illness, including the more severe heat exhaustion and heatstroke. It is so important to know and understand the signs to look for in your children and know how to prevent them from overheating. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not the same things.

Heat exhaustion can quickly become heat stroke, which is very serious and a life threatening condition. Heat exhaustion is preventable. It occurs when your body becomes too hot. If you are outdoors in high temperatures for a long time and you don’t replace your fluids and become dehydrated, your body becomes too hot. Being outdoors in high temperatures for prolonged duration, especially along with high humidity and physical activity, can also increase the risk of heat exhaustion.  Children less than 5 years old are especially at risk since they adjust to heat more slowly. Children don’t sweat as well and can overheat. They also do not tolerate the heat as well especially if dehydrated, and babies are at a greater risk of being dehydrated.

Signs to initially watch out for may be related to dehydration. These may include fussiness or crankiness or excessive crying. Other signs may be a less than usual urination or wet diapers. If your child begins to have symptoms and signs including increased thirst, decreased wet diapers or urine output, nausea/vomiting, look pale, have moist and clammy skin, fainting, mild temperature elevations, headache or fatigue, these may be signs of heat exhaustion. It is important to treat right away. Remove your child from the heat and move into a cool environment. Give plenty of fluids, remove or loosen clothing and rest. Most kids do well with rest and re-hydration. Since heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, it is important to call your pediatrician as well if the symptoms don’t quickly improve within 30 minutes.

Heat stroke is life threatening and occurs when your body becomes extremely overheated. Heat stroke is when the body temperature becomes over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.  Basically, the body temperature is rising and the ability to cool it down has stopped. Symptoms of heat stroke may include mental confusion, dry flushed skin, severe headache and even loss of consciousness or bizarre behavior. If you see any of these symptoms or you think your child may have heat stroke, immediately call 911.  In the interim, undress the child and bring him into a cool environment. Wet, cold towels or a fan can also help in the interim while waiting for emergency treatment.

In summary, while being outside is fun and kids don’t usually want to be indoors – even if it is too hot – it is important as parents to be vigilant during the time spent outdoors during high summer temperatures and to take necessary steps to keep our children well hydrated and safe from the heat. I suggest on those really extreme hot summer days to stay indoors in a cool environment.


This article was originally written for Mommybites.com in August 2013.
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