Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even 1 day in the sun can result in a burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness). The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses.
Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection; darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 100% UV protection.
But not all kids enjoy wearing sunglasses, especially the first few times. To encourage them to wear them, let kids select a style they like — many manufacturers make fun, multicolored frames or ones embossed with cartoon characters. And don’t forget that kids want to be like grown-ups. If you wear sunglasses regularly, your kids may be willing to follow your example.
Some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. As a result, even kids with skin that tends not to burn easily can develop a severe sunburn in just minutes when taking certain medications. Fair-skinned kids, of course, are even more vulnerable.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription (especially antibiotics and acne medications) and over-the-counter medications your child is taking can increase sun sensitivity. If so, always take extra sun precautions. The best protection is simply covering up or staying indoors; even sunscreen can’t always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.
If Your Child Gets a Sunburn
A sunburn can sneak up on kids, especially after a long day at the beach or park. Often, they seem fine during the day but then gradually develop an “after-burn” later that evening that can be painful and hot and even make them feel sick.
When kids get sunburned, they usually experience pain and a sensation of heat — symptoms that tend to become more severe several hours after sun exposure. Some also develop chills. Because the sun has dried their skin, it can become itchy and tight. Burned skin begins to peel about a week after the sunburn. Encourage your child not to scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is vulnerable to infection.
If your child does get a sunburn, these tips may help:
- Keep your child in the shade until the sunburn is healed. Any additional sun exposure will only increase the severity of the burn and increase pain.
- Have your child take 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 or taken directly from within the leaves of the plant) to any sunburned areas. It’s excellent for relieving sunburn pain and helping skin heal quicker.
- 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 or teens.)
- Apply topical moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and help reduce swelling. For the most severely burned areas, apply a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream. (Do not use petroleum-based products, because they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping. Also, 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 doctor, tell your child not to scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, which can become easily infected and can result in scarring.
Heat-related illnesses such as heat syncope (fainting from heat), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are far more serious than a sunburn. These conditions occur when kids become overheated and dehydrated, and in many cases, are accompanied by sunburn.
Call the doctor if:
- your child has an unexplained fever higher than 102° Fahrenheit (38.9° Celsius)
- the sunburned skin looks infected
- your child has trouble looking at light (this may indicate a sunburn of the eye’s cornea)
Contact your doctor for immediate assistance if your child has:
- delirium (seems temporarily mentally confused)
Be Sun Safe Yourself
Being a good role model by wearing sunscreen and limiting your time in the sun not only reduces your risk of sun damage, but teaches your kids good sun sense.