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Travel Health Concerns: Heat Illness and Sun Safety
Sun Safety
Travel Health Concerns: Heat Illness and Sun Safety



Photo by Eros Marconi

By Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, Pediatrics Now

Warm, sunny locations are great family vacation destinations. Not only in summer. Travel to a warm weather destination in winter offers families an escape from cold, wind and rain. Yet a travel destination need not be exotic to warrant caution. Knowing how to keep your children out of the heat and safe in the sun will help them stay healthy and make your vacation that much more fun.

Heat and sun are a dangerous cocktail. But they don't always go hand in hand. It is possible to get sunburn in the shade and become dehydrated on a cloudy day. Similarly, it is possible to sunburn even if it isn't 'hot' outside.

A child's age largely determines how much heat and sun they can handle. Babies under 6 months of age should never be in direct sunlight - they burn too easily and sunscreen is not safe for infants and young children. Dress babies and tots in light clothing and use an umbrella or stroller sunshade. And don't forget to put on their hat! For toddlers and preschoolers, sunscreen, at least SPF 15, hats with a brim, and sunglasses are but the start. The American Academies of Pediatrics and Dermatology recommend limiting sun exposure during peak the sun hours from 10:00 to 16:00.

Both adults and kids lose sugars and salts when they sweat and it's important to replenish a dehydrated body quickly. Young children will suffer heat illnesses such as dehydration and heat exhaustion first. Yet offering a drink to small children may not be enough. When overheated, young children often need to be encouraged to take more than a sip. If a young child refuses to drink, move him to a cooler spot and offer the bottle or cup again. Kids that refuse to drink even after their body cools should be evaluated for dehydration and heat exhaustion immediately. Excessive sweating, lethargy and vomiting are also telltale signs of heat exhaustion and other heat illnesses.

A sunburn is true burning of the skin and can be serious if large and blistered. Older children may need to be reminded that sunscreen, again SPF 15 or more, is more than just a weight in their daypack and that it should be rubbed on their entire body including feet, hands, nose, ears (both front and back), and lips. One coat of sunscreen will not protect children or adults for an entire day. To be effective, sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours. But sunscreen alone is not enough to keep active kids from overheating. Whether building sandcastles or playing beach volleyball make sure they drink plenty of liquids (water, sports drinks and even Popsicles) and don't over do it. Encourage frequent breaks in play and move the activity to the shade for sun-free time. Sunburn combined with a headache, chills or fever are symptoms of sunstroke; immediate medical attention is warranted.

Prevention is your best defense against heat illness and over exposure to the sun. So, whether you are heading out on a hike or an exotic vacation in a tropical climate, be sure to include the following items in your beach bag or daypack.
  • water, rehydration solutions such as sports drinks and pedialyte
  • sunblock SPF 15 or higher
  • hats with brims
  • sunglasses
  • stroller sunshade or umbrella
  • portable fans
  • portable water bottles
  • cell phone
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