skip to Main Content

How To Keep Your Children Safe In The Sun

1. SUNSCREEN, SUNSCREEN AND MORE SUNSCREEN!

I cannot stress this enough. The damage that causes skin cancer in adulthood can start in childhood. Every child needs sunscreen, regardless of skin tone. Melanin is a pigment found in the skin that absorbs UV rays. The darker the skin, the more melanin there is, therefore the more UV rays are absorbed. This simply means that the skin will take longer to burn BUT it will burn.

How does sunscreen work?

Most sunscreens contain organic and inorganic chemicals. The inorganic chemicals act as a physical barrier and don’t get absorbed into the skin. These are known as physical sunscreens and work by reflecting UV rays, which is what used to make sunblock look white on the skin. Modern day sunblock no longer leaves this white residue on the skin.

The organic chemicals actually absorb UV rays, much like melanin, and then disperse the energy as heat. These chemicals get absorbed into the skin and are known as chemical sunscreens. 

What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

 UVB rays are the main cause of redness of the skin and sunburn. These rays damage the superficial layers of the skin.

UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause the tanned look by increasing the amount of melanin in the skin. This is a how the skin protects itself from further damage. There is no way to tell how much UVA damage the skin has endured. 

How to choose the right sunscreen?

It does not matter if you use a lotion, cream, gel, spray or stick. They are all equally effective. What is important is that you apply a sunscreen with at least an SPF 30.

To get the most protection, you need a broad-spectrum sunscreen. This means the sunscreen must protect against UVA and UVB rays. No sunscreen can block 100 percent of UVB rays; SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks out 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%.

Using a water-resistant sunscreen is probably a better idea especially if your little ones are running around sweating a lot or swimming.

What is SPF?

Sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you before you burn. SPF is a measure of UVB rays only.

So how does the factor in SPF work? If you normally burn after 20 minutes (without sunblock) and you apply an SPF 15 it will take 15 times longer to burn. This means that you should theoretically be protected for 5 hours (20 x 15 = 300/60 = 5 hours) If you use an SPF 30 then it should take 30 times longer and therefore 10 hours before you burn. However, it is impossible to expect a sunscreen to be effective for 5 hours never mind 10 so the SPF model is not 100% fail proof.

How common is sunscreen allergy?

It is uncommon to have an allergy to sunscreen. If there is a real allergy towards a sunblock it is usually towards one of the organic chemicals found in the cream. It’s a good idea to test the sunblock out first on a small area of the skin to see if an allergy will occur, before applying sunblock to the whole body. Sunscreens for sensitive skin are readily available. Physical sunscreens are not known to cause allergies. Make sure to check the label so you know what you are getting.

Sunscreen everywhere!

Be sure to put sunscreen on all exposed areas. Don’t forget the tops of the feet, back of the hands, the ears, back of the neck, hairline, lips and nose.

Reapply often!

Remember to apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going out into the sun. All sunscreens, regardless of strength, need to be reapplied every 2 hours. Reapply more frequently if swimming and/or sweating a lot. Sand and water also reflects more light so your children will burn more easily when at the beach, swimming or playing water sports. Remember, no sunscreen is waterproof.

2. COVER UP

You should never rely on sunscreen alone to keep your children safe from the harmful UV rays. There are other additional measures you can take to protect your children from the sun and heat. Have your children wear loose cotton clothing so that they don’t overheat and avoid sheer fabrics as UV rays can penetrate these.

Clothing that contains Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is becoming more readily available. UPF fabric is very tightly woven and uses dyes that disrupt UV light, which prevents the penetration of both UVA and UVB rays. Look for UPF clothing with a rating of 50+. Don’t forget about hats. Wide brimmed hats are better as they also protect the ears and back of the neck.

If the skin needs protecting so do the eyes. Whilst Sunglasses these days are much more of a fashion statement they are actually very important in protecting eyes against UV rays. UV rays can cause a number of eye problems later in life such as cataracts, retinal damage, pterygium formation and skin cancer of the eyelids. Short-term exposure can also burn the cornea, which is extremely painful and causes blurred vision. I have seen various sunglasses that are available for children. When buying sunglasses make sure though that they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

6. NEWBORNS AND YOUNG CHILDREN 

Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the direct sunlight. The skin is thinner and the melanin is not properly developed. If this is not possible, use a sunscreen that contains either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide only (a physical barrier cream only). These are less likely to irritate your baby’s sensitive skin, as they do not get absorbed. Still, make sure that you keep them out of the sun during the harmful peak hours mentioned below.

4. STAY HYDRATED

Prevent heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke. Make sure your children drink plenty of fluids before and during outdoor activities in hot weather. Thirst is a late sign of dehydration.

 5. OPT FOR SHADE

 Your children should try stay in the shade during dangerous peak times, 11am – 3pm, when UVB rays are the strongest. Kids should also take regular breaks from the sun and go into the shade to cool down and prevent overheating.

6. CLOUDY, OVERCAST WEATHER

This is a common problem. One thinks because there is no visible sun the clouds offer protection but in fact the clouds only manage to filter a small percentage of UV rays. Children can still get sunburnt when it is cloudy. Even though you may not be able to see the sun, the sun’s UV rays still reach the earth.

7. SET AN EXAMPLE

Make sure you always wear sunscreen and sunglasses. Let your kids help rub it in on your shoulders. Avoid tanning and limit your time in the sun so that your children can learn correct behaviours from you.

I know that some of these tips may seem obvious but I continue to see children playing outdoors without any sunscreen or sunhats. In a climate like what we have in South Africa we need to be more aware of the dangers the sun and heat create for our little ones.

RESOURCES

https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/children.htm

https://www.preventblindness.org/how-can-uv-rays-damage-your-eyes

Keep Your Swimming Pool Safe This Summer

South Africa has updated its pool safety regulations this year and now all private swimming pools not only need to be fenced off, but they also need to be fitted with either a pool cover or safety net when not in use. The new regulations form part of the SANS 10134 which is a SABS standard for the safeness of private swimming pools.

Lets take a look at the regulations and some additional measures that can be taken to safetyproof your swimming pool. No single safety measure is foolproof therefore its better to rather use as many as you can together.

SAFETY MEASURES

1. Swimming Pool Fence

According to the South Africa Bureau of standards (SABS) a fence must surround a body of water that holds more than 30 cm of water.

The fence gate must be self-closing and self-locking. The fence must be at least 1.2m high and sunk into the ground by at least 50cm. The vertical slats should be no more than 100mm apart.

Children should not be able to climb over or through the fence and should not be able to open the gates themselves.

2. Swimming Pool Cover

The SA safety standard also requires a swimming that holds more than 30cm of water to be covered by a cover or safety net. DIY installed nets are no longer allowed. An “accredited responsible party” must professionally install a cover and a cover is not approved if a child can unfasten it.

If your pool is small (less than 2.4m at the widest point) the cover must be able to hold the weight of one adult and one child. If you have a larger pool then the cover must hold the weight of two adults and one child in case the first adult falls into the pool during a rescue mission.

3. Swimming Pool Alarm

A swimming pool alarm is an additional safety measure you can have installed. Detectors with sensors that extend into the water are mounted onto the sides of the pool. You can also get free floating alarms. Waves form on the pool surface when a child comes into contact with the water, which triggers these alarms.

Aquawatch pool alarm

Lifebuoy alarm

 

 

 

 

 

You can also have a pool alarm installed on the swimming pool gate, which is activated when the gate is opened.

4. Swimming Pool Chemicals

Make sure all pool chemicals are locked away out of sight and out of reach. Children may mistakenly drink these and contact with the skin can cause chemical burns.

DO NOT FORGET

  • The same rules apply to water features and fishponds. Cover these with safety nets as children can drown in as little as 2.5cm of water.
  • It’s also a good idea to keep the pool brush or net nearby. The pole can be used to help someone in the water if needed.
  • Regularly inspect your safety measures. It’s not uncommon for dogs to chew the safety nets causing them to become lax and ineffective.
  • There are many different products and brands available. Make sure whatever you choose is SABS approved.

RESOURCES

Intemark (2018) Aquawatch Pool Alarms. [image] Available from: http://intemark.co.za/Aquawatch/ [Accessed 18 October 2018].

Lifebuoy (2018) Lifebuoy features. [image] Available from: https://www.lifebuoyalarm.com [Accessed 18 October 2018].

SABS (2015) The safeness of private swimming pools [online]. Available from: https://store.sabs.co.za/catalog/product/view/_ignore_category/1/id/218720/s/sans-10134-2008-ed-1-02/ [Accessed 18 October 2018].

Safepool (n.d.) Swimming pool by laws in South Africa [online]. Available from: http://safepool.co.za/swimming-pool-fence-by-laws-in-south-africa/ [Accessed 18 October 2018].

de Wet, P. (2018) These are the new safety standards for private swimming pools – and a fence is no longer good enough. Business Insider South Africa, [online] pp. https://www.businessinsider.co.za/private-swimming-pool-standard-sans-10134-mandatory-safety-net-to-prevent-drowning-2018-7 [Accessed 18 October 2018].

Drowning 101: Understanding The Biology

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death worldwide. In SA, the number of drownings has increased significantly over the years, with drowning mortality highest in children under 15 years of age. Shockingly, South Africa has been ranked among the top 10 in an analysis of 60 countries for child drowning mortality.

LET’S TALK DEFINITIONS

In 2005, the World Health Organisation simplified matters, so the terms near-drowning, wet, dry, active, passive, silent and secondary drowning are no longer medically recognised.

Drowning: the process of undergoing respiratory impairment as a result of submersion or immersion in liquid. The outcome can either be fatal or nonfatal.

Submersion: when the airway is BELOW the surface of the liquid.

Immersion: when the airway is ABOVE the surface of the liquid.

Aspirate: when you breathe something foreign into the lungs.

Hypoxia: when not enough oxygen reaches the tissues in the body.

THE BIOLOGY OF DROWNING

The water enters the mouth. Once the water travels down and touches the larynx it triggers a reflex, which causes a laryngospasm. This is when the larynx closes up tightly, therefore no water can enter the lungs.

Since the lungs are no longer getting air, the brain starts to lose oxygen which eventually causes this reflex to stop. The larynx then relaxes and water enters the lungs. If death occurred before water entered the lungs it was called dry drowning and when water entered it was wet drowning. Dry drownings are actually very rare.

Once water is in the lung the body absorbs it into the bloodstream. It is uncommon for the amount of water to exceed the rate of absorption because people who are conscious won’t actually breathe in that much water and when they become unconscious they are no longer actively breathing.

Surfactant

The lungs are made up of lots of little sacs called alveoli. These sacs are lined with a substance called surfactant. Surfactant keeps these sacs open so that air can enter them.

When water mixes with surfactant it no longer does its job and the alveoli collapse. With all these sacs collapsing the blood cells cannot absorb any oxygen. They then start to look elsewhere for oxygen and begin to flood areas of the lung where the alveoli are still open (this is known as shunting). Because of these high pressures, fluid starts to leak out of the blood and into the lungs. This then causes pulmonary oedema and is what used to be referred to as secondary drowning.

Eventually, because of the decreasing oxygen in the blood, you lose consciousness. Your brain will then continue to be without oxygen and the duration of this is the most important determinant of outcome.

DELAYED DROWNING

This is what many parents are afraid of will happen to their children. Delayed drowning happens when your child aspirates some water whilst swimming and develops symptoms much later after the incident. Usually you are not even aware of this and your child may not even tell you they had any problems in the water.

Physiologically speaking delayed drowning is the same as secondary drowning. The water that was breathed in causes enough alveoli to collapse to result in shunting and pulmonary oedema.

It’s important to know that there has never been a medically documented case where someone who had a drowning incident, experienced no symptoms at first but later deteriorated and died. Usually someone who has aspirated water will have some symptoms right after which will either get better or worse within a few hours. If your child has had any problems in the water you should watch them for the next 1-2 days. If any respiratory symptoms develop you should take them straight to the emergency room.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Unusually tired
  • Pale skin
  • Vomiting

Remember… NEVER leave your children unsupervised around water. A child can drown in as little as 2.5 cm of water.

RESOURCES

van Beeck, E.F. et al. (2005) A new definition of drowning: towards documentation and prevention of a global public health problem. Bulletin of World Health Organization, [online]. Available from: https://www.scielosp.org/pdf/bwho/2005.v83n11/853-856/en [Accessed: 11 October 2018].

Hawkins, S.C., Sempsrott, J. & Schmidt, A. (2017) Drowning in a Sea of Misinformation: Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning. Emergency Medicine News [online]. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/em-news/blog/PhotographED/Pages/post.aspx?PostID=247 [Accessed: 11 October 2018].

High, P. (2016) Immersion submersion and drowning Available from: https://derangedphysiology.com/main/required-reading/trauma-burns-and-drowning/Chapter%204.0.7/immersion-submersion-and-drowning [Accessed: 11 October 2018].

Saunders, C.J., Sewduth, D. & Naidoo, N. (2018) Keeping our heads above water: A systematic review of fatal drowning in South Africa. SAMJ, [online] 108 (1), pp. 61-68. Available from: http://www.scielo.org.za/pdf/samj/v108n1/17.pdf [Accessed: 11 October 2018].

WHO (2018) Violence and Injury Prevention. [online]. Available from: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/other_injury/drowning/en/ [Accessed: 11 October 2018].

The Dangers of Party Balloons

We recently celebrated my daughter’s two-year birthday and, of course, decorated the house with balloons. No children’s birthday party is complete without balloons and although they are very popular with kids, they can also be extremely dangerous. Which is why I wanted to do a post on the potential dangers of balloons:

CHOKING HAZARD

Children can choke on balloons if they breathe them in whilst trying to blow them up. This happens when a child takes in a deep breath before inflating the balloon and accidently sucks the balloon back into his or her mouth. A child can also choke if they swallow deflated balloons or pieces of popped balloons they may chew on. If a balloon pops in a child’s face the child can also inhale the balloon pieces as they fly through the air.

Latex is a dangerous material to choke on as it can fit tightly in the throat and cause a complete airway obstruction very quickly. Whilst foil balloons are usually blown up with helium they can also become a choking hazard if deflated balloons or broken pieces are swallowed. There was a widely reported incident in 2016, where a three-year-old suffocated after putting the foil balloon over her head.

BURSTING HAZARD

Balloons can pop without warning. They can pop if children play with them roughly or if little children chew on them. Poor quality balloons can also pop more easily even if they aren’t being rough-handled. Children can also trip over balloon strings and fall onto the balloons popping them. If balloons pop near a child’s face they can cause serious damage to the eyes as well as cuts to the face.

STRANGULATION HAZARD

This may be an overlooked hazard. The colourful strings and ribbons that are tied to balloons can become a strangulation hazard as children become tangled.

ALWAYS KEEP IN MIND

  • Keep uninflated balloons away from children
  • Do not let children blow up balloons
  • Inflated balloons should be kept out of reach of children
  • Children should never play with inflated balloons
  • Always supervise children when inflated balloons are around
  • Throw away deflated and popped balloons immediately
  • Throw away balloon strings immediately when balloons deflate and pop

In the United States the Child Safety Protection Act requires a warning to be placed on any latex balloon or toy containing a latex balloon. This warning states that children under eight years of age are at risk of choking or suffocating on uninflated or broken balloons. Similarly, in the EU, children under the age of eight are actually legally banned from blowing up balloons without adult supervision.

However, children as old as 10 years have been found, on autopsy, to have suffocated from a balloon, which makes it difficult to define what age is actually safe for kids to handle balloons.

I think its important to stress to your kids that party balloons are not toys. They are purely for decoration and should always be properly secured and disposed of after use.

RESOURCES

CPSC (2012) CPSC Warns Consumers of Suffocation Danger Associated with Children’s Balloons. [online] Available from: https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/5087.pdf [Accessed 6 September 2018].

Francis, P.J. & Chisholm, I. H. (1998) Ocular trauma from party balloons. British Journal of Opthalmology, [online] 82 (2). Available from: https://bjo.bmj.com/content/82/2/203.1 [Accessed 6 September 2018].

Meel, B.L (1998) An Accidental Suffocation by a Rubber Balloon. Medicine, Science and the Law, [online] 38 (1), pp. 81-82. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1177/002580249803800113 [Accessed 6 September 2018].

Back To Top