The mercury is already rising, and while it’s great to make the most of playing outdoors, ensuring the sprogs are well-hydrated and covered up is more important than ever. Dr Sam Hassan, consultant pediatrician at City Hospital’s Mediclinic, shares his top sun-savvy tips
Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable in hot weather and can suffer both short and long-term damage from sunburn and heatstroke. This is because their ability to regulate temperature is developed, and they can easily lose excess water and salt through their skin. They are also more vulnerable than adults to sunlight and burning, and as studies show that one sunburn incident during the childhood may raise their risk of developing melanoma as well as wrinkles later in adulthood, babies less than six months old should be kept out of the sun on hot days as much as possible. If you have to take your child out with you, make sure you observe the following precautions.
Choose your times
Outdoor play should be limited to early mornings and late afternoons only. The sun’s rays are at their strongest between 10am and 5pm – so avoid these hours. Some surfaces such as cement, sand, water and snow reflect the suns’ rays and increase the risk of sunburn too. Grassy, shaded areas are therefore safer. It’s not the heat which causes sunburn either, but the UV light, so your baby may get burnt even is the weather is cloudy. UV light can damage the skin at any time of the year and is obviously worse in summer. But always take precautions because sunburn is not immediately obvious and may not appear for a few hours.
Cover up baby
Keep your baby in a protected spot, away from direct sunlight. When bubba is in the stroller or pram, use a pop-up stroller shade which is UV light protection certified. Shades without UV protection cannot provide a complete barrier from UV light. If you are planning to spend a full day at the beach for example, it’s better to keep your baby a tent with built-in UV protection. Babies should also be dressed in light-weight and light-coloured clothes that reflect rather than absorb heat. It’s better to use fabrics that don’t allow light to penetrate (tightly woven). You can confirm this by holding the fabric up to the light to see if it shines through. Fabric with UV barriers are available too, and you can keep kids heads covered with a brimmed sunhat. Protect their eyes with ‘baby’ sunglasses – although this isn’t always easy if your child is unwilling to wear them.
One of the most common causes of heatstroke in children is when they are placed in an overly hot car. The temperature in your parked car can be double the temperature outside, which means if the temperature outside is 35 degrees, it will be 70 degrees inside. Make sure you cool your car down by running the AC for a while prior to your journey. It goes without saying that you should NEVER leave your child inside a parked car in the summer heat even for short period of time. At the same time, avoid moving your baby between too-cool and too-warm places. Raise the AC temperature in your home a little, so that when your car has cooled down, it is a similar temperature to your indoor environment.
Hydration, hydration, hydration
Always take plenty of fluids with you, preferably packed in a cooler box for both babies and young kids. Breast milk is the best rehydration solution for infants who are less than six months old. Try to avoid giving young babies a lot of water alone as this may have a dilution effect and lower their salt levels. Also avoid very cold, icy fluids and ice creams. Cool, but not ice cold juices and fluids are best. Toddlers especially need more fluid during the hot weather. In general, children require around 50-60 ml of water per kilogram of body weight per day. However this amount increases in the hot weather. On summer days when you’re out all afternoon, little ones may need to drink 30 per cent more than the usual amount.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently advised that it is okay to use a little sunscreen on babies less than six months old. Choose a brand which is baby-safe (ask your pharmacist to recommend one). However, the first defense against the sun should be keeping babies shaded and covered up, rather than slathering them in sun cream. Sun block for older kids needs to be applied around 30 minutes before you go outside, and then needs to be re-applied every two hours, or after swimming, toweling and perspiration. Make sure the sunscreen is fresh too, as if it’s old, it will lose its effectiveness.
Be hot on heatstroke
Heat exhaustion may become heat stroke (a much more serious condition) especially in children, because little ones are much more active even in the summer heat. They often get distracted and don’t hydrate well enough either. As most of mothers in Dubai are working or using caregivers to help in children care; make sure that your nannies fully understand the principles of how to prevent sunburn, dehydration and heatstroke.
1 A temperature of 40°C or above in a child who has spend time outside in hot weather, is often a sign of heatstroke.
2 Heavy sweating that suddenly stops, usually because the body is unable to produce any more sweat, is a major warning sign that a person has become over-heated and dehydrated.
3 A rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing and muscle cramps, along with mental confusion, a lack of coordination and problems understanding or speaking.
4 In more serious cases, heatstroke can cause hallucinations and you can also lose consciousness. If you suspect your child has heatstroke, seek medical advice immediately.
Burn, baby burn
If your little one does get a bit pink after an afternoon outside, there are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort of mild sunburn
• Soak a flannel in cold water and place it on the red area for 10 minutes to relieve the pain and inflammation.
• Fresh aloe vera taken directly from the plant is an excellent way to help heal and soothe sunburn. Simply break off a leaf, squeeze out the gel and apply it directly to the affected area.
• A dose of baby ibuprophen or paracetamol will ease the discomfort – especially before bedtime.
• If baby develops blisters, don’t pop them as this will leave their skin open to infection. Leave them to heal naturally.
• Leave burned skin uncovered where possible when indoors. And when you dress baby, make sure he or she wears loose, light, soft cotton clothing. Anything manmade, dark in colour or tight will increase sweating and rubbing of the sore areas.
• Administer lots of fluids and make sure baby’s sunburn is not accompanied by a fever. If this is the case, seek medical advice immediately.