Sun and Heat Safety Tips
For children of all ages, summertime can be ideal for outdoor activities with family and friends. With time spent outside in the sun and summer heat, it is essential to take steps to prevent sun and heat risks that can impact kids’ health.
“The extremes of age, the young and the elderly, are most at risk for heat-related illnesses,” says Samuel J. Prater, M.D., Medical Director of Emergency Services for Memorial Hermann-TMC and an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “The key is prevention – staying hydrated and having access to shade and air conditioning – is critical to safety and health in warmer climates.”
Dr. Prater shares his recommendations and advice in the Q&A below for summer safety tips related to sun exposure and heat-related illnesses:
What should parents and families do to protect children from the sun’s harmful UV rays?
For sun protection, it’s all about applying sunscreen, reapplying sunscreen and staying in the shade. Children and adults should wear a hat to shade their faces and sunglasses to protect their eyes from sun damage.
When buying sunscreen, does the SPF number matter?
I recommend applying sunscreen that is at least SPF 30-50, and the first application should take place 15-30 minutes before sun exposure. The most important tip about using sunscreen is reapplying it about every two hours – even more frequently if kids are wet from swimming in the pool or sweating, as this can increase the risk of sun damage.
While some believe they can apply a higher SPF once in the morning and do not have to reapply all day because a higher SPF number will protect them more, that is not true. Reapplication of sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 is critically important to protect kids and adults from the sun’s harmful UV rays, especially if their skin is wet from sweating or being in the pool.
Can babies wear sunscreen or do clothing and hats provide more protection?
Babies can wear sunscreen and should have both forms of protection – protective clothing like a hat and breathable fabrics as well as sunscreen on any exposed skin.
What part of the day is the most dangerous for sunburns?
During the summer, sun exposure is the strongest between 10 a.m. and around 4 p.m./5 p.m. or so. The warmest part of the day has the highest potential for sunburns.
Can you get sunburned on cloudy days?
Absolutely, anyone can get sunburned on cloudy days. The UV radiation still penetrates the clouds when the weather appears overcast. Therefore, sunscreen should be applied on both sunny and cloudy days.
What do I do if my child is very sunburned?
Anytime you see blistering, the child should be taken to an urgent care facility or local pediatric emergency room. Most sunburns are first degree burns. Once sunburns start to blister, they transition to second degree burns. If blistering appears on sensitive areas like the face, specialists should see the child sooner rather than later.
Do some sunscreens cause bad burns or chemical burns?
Sun tanning lotion and baby oil are not to be used or misinterpreted as sunscreen. These do not provide protection or relief from UV radiation and/or burns.
What steps should families take to ensure kids stay healthy and safe in hotter temperatures?
To protect children from the heat, it is essential to stay hydrated and ensure kids have access to places with shade (or air conditioning, if needed). Make sure kids are taking breaks in the shade or in the air conditioning and are not outside in the sun for extended periods of time. Observe and check in with children to make sure they are drinking water. For adults, the same guidelines apply in addition to limiting alcoholic consumption, which increases the chances of becoming dehydrated.
What should parents do if they think their child is experiencing a heat-related illness or seems overheated?
If you notice that your child is experiencing a reaction or apparent illness in response to heat, get them out of the heat and remove any type of hat and clothes on their upper body, as quickly as possible. Since adults and children dissipate a lot of heat on their heads, it works well if you spray water on the child’s head and get him or her under a fan quickly to lower the body temperature.
When should kids be taken to the ER for heat-related illnesses?
If the child has lost consciousness, the family should seek care at a pediatric emergency room as soon as possible. If the child shows any change in their mental status – if he or she is lethargic or abnormally confused, not acting like themselves or making sense, and/or hallucinating – the child must be taken to a pediatric emergency room as soon as possible and the parents should continue trying to cool the child down.
It is never, under any circumstances, okay to leave a child in an unattended car, even if the windows are down. A child’s body warms 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, making it extremely dangerous for a child to be or play in an unattended car. (Source)
Do you have any tips for traveling in a car with infants or young children?
Avoid distractions while driving, and make sure to check the back seat before leaving a car unattended. One habit that can help ensure the safety of children traveling in cars is to place something you will be sure to take with you when you reach your destination – a cell phone, bag, briefcase, purse, etc. – in the back seat near a child so that you are reminded to check the back seat when you arrive at your destination.
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Children's Memorial Hermann partnered with Houstonia Magazine to publish this article, which includes parenting tips and advice from the affiliated physicians from McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Not all affiliated physicians are Memorial Hermann employees.