Doc Talk: Dangers of sunburns in children and how to prevent them

As the temperatures warm up and we head outside sun exposure can be a real concern.

Pediatric emergency doctor, Clint Pollack from Valley Children's Hospital talks about the dangers of harmful rays, especially to small children.

Dr. Pollack says sunburn is an inflammatory response of the skin to excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Symptoms range from mild redness to severe pain, erythema, swelling, and blistering.

Very severe sunburn may also cause fever, headache, vomiting, and dehydration.

Symptoms are self-limited and usually resolve in three to seven days.

Risk factors include:
- Time of day. UV radiation is strongest between 10:00 - 4:00.
- High Altitude.
- Reflection from snow, sand, or water.

- Fair skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair.
- Certain medications.
- Cloud cover decreases sun exposure, but significant amounts of UV radiation still penetrate.
- People who sunburn easily have a higher risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

Cool compresses or soaks, calamine lotion, or aloe vera-based gels provide some relief of pain and discomfort. Ruptured blisters should be gently cleaned with mild soap and water and covered with wet dressings (saline or petrolatum impregnated gauzes).

Ibuprofen will help with pain and inflammation.

Very severe sunburns may require hospitalization for IV fluids and pain medicine.

Topical or oral steroids have not been proven to help.

Prevention of sunburns includes:
- Avoiding prolonged sun exposure.
- Wearing protective clothing: long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hats.
- Using broad-spectrum sunscreen.
- Sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher.
- Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied at least every two hours and/or after swimming.

For infants younger than six months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoidance of sun exposure and the use of protective clothing. A minimal amount of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 may be applied to small areas (face, back of hands) when adequate clothing and shade are not available.
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