Guest Author - Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D, F.A.A.P
Warm, sunny locations are perfect family vacation spots, especially when traveling during the winter! Yet many locations are warmer and sunnier than we are accustomed to even when compared to our own summers. Knowing how to keep your children safe in the sun and heat will keep them healthy and your vacation more fun.
You may be surprised to learn that the heat and the sun do not necessarily go hand in hand. We can burn in the shade and get dehydrated on a cloudy day if the outdoor temperature is warm and humid enough. Similarly, it is possible to get a sunburn in very ordinary temperatures. Needless to say, when heat and sun occur together, there is double the trouble.
A childís age dictates a great deal of what they can handle for heat and sun. Babies under 6 months of age should never be in direct sunlight Ė they burn too easily and sunscreens are not safe for children so young. Try to keep these tots covered in light clothing or shaded by an umbrella or stroller cover Ė and donít forget the hat.
Our bodies lose sugars and salts when we sweat and itís important to replenish what we lose as we go to avoid a later problem. This is especially important in small children who tend to not want to drink when they feel very warm. Monitor small children for excessive sweating and sleepiness and encourage them to drink continuously. If you are having trouble getting them to drink, move to a cool location and see if they drink more once cool. If not, get them evaluated for dehydration and heat exhaustion. This age group dehydrates very quickly so it is important to keep rehydration solutions such as Gatorade and pedialyte on hand as well as water.
For older kids, sunscreen SPF 15 or higher, hats with a brim, sunglasses and limiting sun exposure during the peak sun times (10am to 4pm) are the current recommendations of the American Academies of Pediatrics and Dermatology. Lube the entire body including feet, hands, noses, ears, back of the ears, lips. And, donít forget to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when playing sports or swimming. Itís also important to have your children rest and have some sun-free time complete with lots of fluids. Keep popsicles on hand as well as sports drinks and encourage your child to carry a water bottle filled with either ice water or a sports drink.
Sunburns are true burns of the skin and can be serious if large and blistered. The discomfort of simple sunburns can be relieved with cool baths, moisturizers with aloe, and hydrocortisone. Large blistering areas many require more elaborate medical management and you should consult a doctor if large areas of blistering occur.
Bodies can get overheated to very dangerous temperatures leading to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Any sunburn with headache, chills, fever is a medical emergency and itís important to seek medical care urgently. Other warning signs to seek help for include lethargy, not tearing, vomiting and not urinating. Also remember not to leave a child in a car on a summerís day even for a few minutes Ė a car can quickly heat up like an oven to temperatures that can and do take lives each summer.
So, as you prepare for the summer heat, keep these items on hand:
1. rehydration solutions and/or sports drinks
2. sunblock SPF 15 or higher
5. stroller coverings or umbrella
6. portable fans
7. portable water bottles
8. cell phone
Prevention is your best defense against over exposure to the heat and sun. Plan your days with plenty of breaks and cool down periods and youíll have all the fun you were hoping for.