Now that Michigan is warming up and summer is around the corner, it is important to recognize the signs, symptoms, and differences between sunburn and sunstroke.
What is sunburn?
A sunburn is a skin burn. It happens when you are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning beds. It is important to know that you are still exposed to UV light even on cloudy days. Initial symptoms of a sunburn can include skin that is red, hot, or painful. In more severe cases, blisters can form over the skin with more intense pain and fevers. Most sunburns are not life-threatening.
What is sunstroke?
A sunstroke is when the body temperature increases due to external heat (e.g., prolonged sun exposure). The temperature will rise greater than 104°F. Examples of potential exposures include when children are left in cars on a hot summer day or when sports practice occurs under the blazing sun. Important features of sunstroke include decreased energy, dry or sweaty skin, vomiting, diarrhea, delirium, hallucinations, seizures, or slurred speech. A sunstroke is a medical emergency and could potentially be life-threatening.
How do you prevent and treat sunburn?
Prevention is key!
- Always wear sunscreen when you are planning to go outside on a sunny (or even cloudy) day. Ideally, the SPF should be 30 or greater.
- Avoid going out during the hottest part of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
- Choose areas that are shaded (under trees, umbrellas for example)
- Cover as much skin as possible (long-sleeve shirts, long pants, hat), and wear sunglasses.
- Avoid tanning beds.
How do you prevent and treat sunstroke?
Once again, prevention is key!
- Always have checks in place (and discuss these with other caregivers) to ensure your child isn’t left behind in the car.
- Provide athletes with adequate hydration before, during, and after sports practice.
- Do not allow your child to participate in sports practice if he or she feels unwell.
- Have a discussion with coaches about the plans that are in place to remove children who are exhibiting signs or symptoms of sunstroke.
If your child has signs or symptoms of a sunstroke, the most important initial step is to remove them from the sun exposure. Call EMS or take your child to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. While you are waiting for EMS or while driving your child to the emergency department, use the following rapid cooling methods: spray the child with water, use a fan, and apply ice packs to the body (on the neck, under the armpits, in the groin region).
– Gurpal Jones, MD, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Physician, Beaumont Health