First aid: Sunburn

What is it?

Sunburn is overexposure of the skin to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The biggest risk of exposure to these rays occurs between the hours of 10am and 2pm. Risk of a burn varies with length of time in the sun, complexion of the skin, proximity to the equator, and altitude.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include redness, warmth and blistering of the skin. Pain tends to be variable with each child, thus the amount of discomfort does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the burn. More significant burns will cause additional symptoms including a flu-like illness characterized by fever, chills, and headache. In addition, burns can make one more prone to dehydration.

What can/should be done at home

  • Use a cool washcloth to apply compresses to the skin. This allows for cooling relief
  • Encourage plenty of fluids to limit the possibility of dehydration.
  • Do not break the blisters that may be present.
  • Give acetaminophen to control pain.
  • Consider using ibuprofen. This medication helps decrease the swelling, fever, and chills of significant burns. However, it should never be used if dehydration is a factor, so always check with your doctor before using this medication for sunburn.
  • Next time, use plenty of waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

When to get immediate attention

  • If your child has signs of dehydration or heatstroke including fainting, decreased urination, or unwillingness to take fluids
  • If the blisters are oozing pus-like fluid or have other signs of infection
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