By Dr. Martin Belson

How to Be Safe in the Sun and Surf

  |  Health Advice & Tips  


For kids, summer usually equals sand, sun and fun. For parents, however, summer brings a slew of safety issues to think about. But with the proper preparation, the entire family can enjoy a relaxing vacation. Consider these tips:

Beach Safety

•    Drink plenty of water, non-carbonated and non-alcoholic drinks, even if you do not feel thirsty.

•    Never swim alone. Stay within the designated swimming area and, ideally, within the visibility of a lifeguard.

•    If you get caught in a rip current, don’t try to swim against it. Instead, swim parallel to shore until clear of the current.

•    Seek shelter in the case of a storm. Get out of the water and off the beach in the case of lightning.


Sun Safety

    According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light through natural and artificial sources is linked to the development of skin cancer later in life. So to ensure a healthy future for your children, follow the advice below. And remember, even on overcast days, the sun’s rays still sneak through.

•    Minimize children’s time in the sun between 10am and 4pm when the rays are strongest.

•    Be aware that the sun’s damaging UV rays can bounce back from sand, snow or concrete.

•    Keep babies under six months of age out of direct sunlight.

•    Dress babies in lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs, and use brimmed hats. Select clothes made of tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton, which is both cool and protective. And don’t forget sunglasses with UV protection.


Sunscreen Tips

•    When choosing a sunscreen, look for a water-resistant or waterproof sunscreen that says “broad-spectrum" on the label. It means the sunscreen will screen out both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.

•    Use a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you apply the sunscreen, which acts as a "block" to the sun’s rays. For example, if your child would burn after 20 minutes of sun exposure, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 45 gives him 45 times the protection. Ideally, you should reapply every two hours.

•    Use zinc oxide, a very effective sunblock, as extra protection on the nose, cheeks, shoulders, and tops of the ears.

•    Rub sunscreen in well, making sure to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose, ears, feet, hands and even the backs of the knees. Apply carefully around the eyes, avoiding eyelids. 

•    Put on sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors — it needs time to work on the skin.


 What should I do if my child gets a sunburn?

•    Keep your child in the shade until the sunburn has healed.

•    Put your child in a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.

•    Apply pure aloe vera gel (available in most pharmacies) to any sunburned areas. It’s excellent for relieving sunburn pain and helping skin heal more quickly.

•    Give your child a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and spray on over-the-counter "after-sun" pain relievers. (Do not, however, give aspirin to children).

•    Apply topical moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and reduce swelling.

•    For the most severely burned areas, apply a thin layer of 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. (Do not use petroleum-based products; they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping).

•    Avoid first-aid products that contain benzocaine, which may cause skin irritation or allergy.

•    If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Until you can see your child’s doctor, tell your child not to scratch, pop or squeeze the blisters, which can become easily infected and result in scarring.

DR. MARTIN BELSON, a practicing pediatrician, developed Kid Emergencies.com to provide a free resource to help parents keep their kids safe and healthy. The site is the winner of an iParenting Media Award for the Greatest Products of 2007. For more information, visit www.kidemergencies.com.

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