While sunburn comes with discomfort and increased risk of skin cancer for all of us, it can be especially problematic for babies and toddlers. While it’s best to be vigilant and intentional about sun protection, it’s also important to know how to respond if a sunburn does occur (see Parts 1, 2 & 3).
In Part 4, we considered several responses to the typical sunburn for older children and adults. However, if a sunburn is especially severe or affects a young child, you may want to take some extra steps in order to assess any damage that may be beyond skin deep as well as to reduce the chances of long-term damage to the skin.
Sunburn Severity Evaluation
Of course, you’re not going to head to urgent care or your family physician every time your skin turns a little pink; however, there are times that medical attention can be crucial. One of those times is when severe blistering occurs over a large percentage of the body. This kind of extensive damage to the skin can cause other problems, so if you’re not sure, it’s best to get it looked at.
Even if you determine that the severity of the sunburn does not warrant medical attention, be sure to avoid popping blisters or scratching them open; doing so may result in an infection. Signs of infection include red streaks and oozing pus, and this would definitely call for a visit to the doctor’s office. Added warning signs of infection include fever, chills, confusion, and feeling woozy.
Sunburn Treatment for Young Children
While the above-mentioned descriptions refer to sunburn for older children and adults, what appears to be a mild sunburn for babies and toddlers can easily cause great damage. The younger the child, the “fresher” their skin, and the more vulnerable it will be. Thankfully, it typically heals faster as well. But because the skin of infants under 6 months of age doesn’t yet have the ability to heal itself, it should never be exposed to sunlight when the UV index is high. If a child under the age of one year old does get sunburn, be sure to bathe him or her in water that’s clear and tepid in order to cool the skin, and then call the doctor. If a young child over the age of one gets a sunburn with any blistering or one that is accompanied by a fever over 101 degrees, lethargy, or severe pain, you should also seek out medical help.
With a sunburn of any level of severity, be sure to push fluids and make sure that the child is urinating regularly. If regular urination is not occurring, dehydration is a concern. Also make sure to keep baths short and to pat the skin gently rather than rubbing it, when drying off. Also be very gentle while applying a gentle moisturizer. If you use calamine lotion, make sure it does not list an antihistamine as an ingredient, since that can cause further drying. Make sure to avoid medicated creams unless directly instructed to do so by a physician. And of course, be especially careful to make sure that your child’s skin does not get any direct exposure to the sun as it heals.
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