Child Safety in the Sun

Make the most of sunny days with your children, but always keep them protected from the sun and make sure they drink enough.

Children and babies have very sensitive skin which can burn easily.  The National Cancer Control Programme warns us that getting a painful sunburn in childhood can double the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, particularly melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer.  

There are very simple steps you can take to protect your child, so please take action now:

Be SunSmart

  • Take care whether you are in Ireland or abroad - UV* damage from Irish weather is just as harmful as that from warmer climates.
  • Take care on cloudy days too – up to 90% of UV rays can pass through light cloud.
  • Protect your child from the Sun
  • Keep babies under 6 months in the shade and dress them in loose-fitting outfits with long sleeves and long shorts. Make sure they are made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through.
  • Keep older children safe by following the SunSmart Code:
    • Slip on sun protective clothing
    • Slap on a hat - a wide brim that gives shade to the face, neck and ears
    • Slop on sunscreen:
      • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB with a minimum of SPF 30 (protects against UVB) and look for these signs uva  or uva rating for UVA protection.  
      • For best protection apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours and always after swimming.  This applies to “waterproof” and “water-resistant” products as well.
      • Don’t forget to cover all exposed areas especially the face, ears, nose, lips and tops of the feet.
      • Skin irritation may occur with the use of sunscreen. Try sunscreen for sensitive skin which will help with this. 
      • No sunscreen gives 100% protection.  So use it with the other parts of the SunSmart Code.  
      • Sunscreen use on babies under 6 months is not harmful on small areas of a baby’s skin but babies under 6 months should be kept in the shade.
    • Seek shade – especially between 11 a.m and 3 p.m.
    • Slide on sunglasses - wrap-around are best - make sure they give as close to 100% UV protection as possible.  Wear wrap-around sunglasses from as early an age as possible.  Choose sunglasses that meet the I.S. EN 1836 standard.
    • Share this information with everyone who looks after your children - including summer camp staff.
    • For more information about the SunSmart code visit, www.cancer.ie

Stay hydrated

  • Make sure your child drinks enough fluids and does not overheat. 
  • Children cannot adjust to changes in temperature as well as adults. They sweat less, reducing their bodies' ability to cool down.

Check the UV index in your area

  • The UV index in your area will give you a guide to how SunSmart you need to be to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
  • Remember that up to 90% of UV rays can pass through light clouds - so you need to take care on cloudy days too.

Make sure your baby gets vitamin D

  • To develop healthy bones and teeth, make sure your baby gets vitamin D - the "sunshine vitamin". Whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed your baby you should give your baby 5 micrograms (5µg) of vitamin D3 every day. Find out more here.

Never leave your child alone in a car

  • It is never safe to leave your child alone in a car - not even for a minute. 
  • Always take your child with you when you leave your car.  It takes very little time to be at great risk of death or injury when alone in the car.  However, in sunny weather the risks are even higher:
    • Heat stroke can happen when the body is not able to cool itself quickly enough.
    • When the body’s temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius, the internal organs start to shut down. When it reaches 41.7 degrees Celsius death can occur.
    • Children are at greater risk for heatstroke because a child’s body heats up 3-5 times faster than an adult’s.
    • Heat stroke can happen in any environment that is too hot. 
    • Parked cars are particularly dangerous.  In just 10 minutes a car can heat up by at least 10 degrees Celsius.  So when it is 25 degrees Celsius outside, your parked car could easily reach 35 degrees Celsius in 10 minutes. This could obviously have devastating consequences for a child.
    • Opening the window of a parked car does not help keep the inside of a car cool enough to avoid the dangers outlined above.
  • Remember the importance of taking frequent stops in a safe place while travelling so that you can check your child is not overheating.  Make sure to give fluids to your child regularly to avoid dehydration.

Avoid heat exhaustion

To help prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

  • drink plenty of cold drinks, especially when exercising
  • take cool baths or showers
  • wear light-coloured, loose clothing
  • sprinkle water over skin or clothes
  • seek shade from the sun between 11am and 3pm
  • keep an eye on children, the elderly and people with long-term health conditions (like diabetes or heart problems) because they're more at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke

The signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • a headache 
  • dizziness and confusion
  • loss of appetite and feeling sick
  • excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
  • cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
  • fast breathing or pulse
  • a temperature of 38C or above
  • intense thirst

The symptoms are often the same in adults and children, although children may become floppy and sleepy.

What to do if you notice signs of heat exhaustion:

  • Take care to protect children (and adults) from the heat.   
  • It is not only outside that heat exhaustion and heat stroke can happen.  Any environment that is too warm can lead to these conditions. Your car is one such place.  
  • If someone is showing signs of heat exhaustion they need to be cooled down immediately.  You should:
    • Get them to rest in a cool place, ideally in a room with air conditioning, or at least somewhere that is in the shade.
    • Give them plenty of fluids to drink. This should either be water or a rehydration drink such as a sports drink. Avoid alcohol or caffeine as this can increase dehydration.
    • Cool their skin with cold water.
    • If available, use a shower or cold bath to cool them down. If not, then apply wet flannels to their skin.
    • Loosen any unnecessary clothing, and make sure that the person gets plenty of air.
    • Call an ambulance (999 or 112) if the person shows sign of heatstroke.  These include the person
      • feeling no better after 30 minutes
      • feeling hot and dry
      • not sweating even though they are too hot
      • having a temperature that's risen to 40C or above
      • having rapid breathing or being short of breath
      • being confused
      • having a fit (seizure)
      • losing consciousness
      • becoming unresponsive

Consider the amount of time spent in a car or at a window

  • Some UV rays can pass through windows.  
  • In general car, home and office windows block most UVB rays but less of the UVA rays.  Therefore the UV radiation that comes through windows probably doesn’t pose a great risk to most people unless they spend long periods of time close to a window.  
  • If you are taking a long car journey use clothes and sunscreen to protect your child's skin. 
  • You may wish to consider the use of window shades in your car to shade your child from the sun.  Make sure they have no small, detachable parts that a young child could get hold of.  

Facts about tanning and UV radiation

  1. A tan does not protect skin from burning.
  2. A tan is the skin’s way of trying to protect itself from further UV damage.
  3. Even when a tan fades, skin damage caused by tanning never goes away and builds up over the years which can lead to skin cancer
  4. Most cases of skin cancer are caused by Ultraviolet (UV) radiation which comes from the sun:
    • UVA makes up most of the UV that reached the earth surface. It reaches the deeper layer of the skin causing skin ageing, eye damage and skin cancer.
    • UVB is mostly absorbed by the Ozone layer and other substances before it reaches the earth’s surface. It causes sunburn and is the major cause of skin cancer.
    • UVC is mostly filtered before it reaches the earth by the Ozone layer and other substances.  Problems can arise if the Ozone layer is thin, such as is the case over Australia.  Some UVC can then reach the earth surface and increase the risk of those exposed to it to skin cancer.

Irish Cancer Society and Irish Cancer Control Programme

  Remember

  • When the weather is hot, make sure you and your child drink plenty of cool drinks.
  • Keep an eye on your children's clothing, hats & sunglasses throughout the day - make sure they continue to wear each item!  
  • Watch the shade - remember the moving sun means that you may have to move to keep in the shade.
  • Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion and take immediate action to cool down.
  • Never leave your child alone in a car - at any time.
Most unintentional injuries (often called accidents) can be prevented:

Remember the key message where child safety is concerned -
Watch your child at all times, as children do not understand danger

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