For many of us, the arrival of the warmer weather means more time spent outdoors. GP, Molly Anderson, is on hand to offer us all some top tips for keeping our children safe in the sun.
I do love the warmer weather, but with more skin exposed to the elements it makes me think about some of the less than-lovely-effects the heat and sun can have - particularly if you have children. Here are a few common ailments that you may come across this summer, and how you can treat them at home with the help of your local pharmacy.
Please, please, please apply a high factor sunscreen to your kids’ skin. There are many great brands suitable for the whole family that will do the job. Not only is sunburn painful and unsightly but, even in childhood, sunburn increases your risk of developing skin cancer in later life.
I like to slather my girls in sunscreen all over before they get dressed, give it time to sink in, and then put their clothes on. This avoids missing bits and also ruining their clothes. (You need to use more lotion than you probably think.) Keep kids out of the sun during peak hours; wear a hat and a light cotton shirt. Reapply sunscreen every few hours and after swimming or if they’re playing sports and getting sweaty.
However, we are all human, and sometimes we get caught out. I still cringe with shame when I think about the time our youngest got burnt on an overcast afternoon. The gasps of disapproval when I took her into nursery the following day… Sunburnt skin becomes red, warm, and tender. It may start to peel after a few days and will usually fully heal within a week. So if your child does get sun burnt – get out of the sun as soon as possible, have a cool bath or shower and apply lots of gentle moisturiser (using it cool from the fridge can be very soothing). It is also important that they drink plenty of water.
Heat Rash (Prickly Heat)
The heady combination of hot days, sunscreen, sweat and swimming can irritate the skin. Heat rash causes small red spots, an itchy, prickly feeling, redness and mild swelling. It is uncomfortable, but harmless, and is not infectious.
Sun screens which are non cosmogenic (they don’t block pores) and hypo allergenic can help reduce this. Wearing light, loose cotton clothing helps, as do cool baths or showers.
If you do get prickly heat – apply a cool pack, tap or pat rather than scratching, which can make things worse, and avoid perfumed gels or creams that might irritate further. Calamine lotion (this also comes combined with aqueous cream which is great applied from the fridge) and hydrocortisone cream (a mild steroid, generally not for use on the face) can help soothe the rash as can an oral anti histamine (see later).
There are a number of critters, particularly in the summer, which can leave red, itchy bites. Insect repellent can help keep them away. If you are in a malarial area then DEET and long sleeved and legged clothing is a must. Anaphylactic reactions are rare but seek immediate medical treatment if children develop breathing difficulties, dizziness and a swollen face or mouth.
However, most insect bites and stings are not serious and will get better within a few hours or days. Some people do react more than others and bites can leave a large area of red, swollen skin. I like to go on holiday with my sister who seems to be particularly tasty to mosquitoes, leaving the rest of us virtually unbitten.
First remove the sting or tick* if it is still in the skin, clean the area and apply a cool compress for at least 10 minutes. Raising the area can reduce swelling too. Tapping, rather than scratching, can help avoid infection as can keeping nails short and covering the area with clothing to avoid scratching the skin directly.
*There are great little devices that can be used to remove ticks. Having bought one during a holiday on the west coast of Scotland, it has come in useful on many a camping holiday since and on our pet dog.
Painkillers and antihistamines can help the pain, swelling and itchiness. Most antihistamines can be bought over the counter from a pharmacist. It is important to check the dose and if they are suitable (for example many antihistamines cannot be taken if you are pregnant). I always have some piriton liquid (chlorphenamine) and cetirizine tablets in the cupboard just in case – but do bear in mind that medicines have use-by dates.
People can get confused between a mild allergic reaction and an infected bite. I would suggest trying the above suggestions first. If it is not improving, or the area of redness is spreading, then seek help. A pharmacist, minor injuries unit or a nurse practitioner at your GP surgery should be able to advise you.
Allergic rashes – Urticaria – also known as hives, weals, nettle rash
Sometimes kids come out in allergic type rashes for no particular reason, or at least with no obvious cause. Days spent running around in long grass getting up to (innocent, we hope!) mischief often results in kids coming home with itchy rashes. The rash is usually red and raised and can be as patches or spots. It is often itchy and sometimes feels stingy or burning. As for heat rash and insect bites - cooling the area, applying soothing creams, a mild steroid or an antihistamine can help. Remember – signs of a serious allergic reaction needs medical attention.
New summer shoes, no socks, long hot days spent walking around… the perfect recipe for a painful blister! Blisters are small pockets of clear fluid under a layer of skin. Blood blisters are red or black and filled with blood. They are commonly found on the feet and hands. Carry plasters to try and stop shoes rubbing before a blister develops.
If it is too late for that – apply a cool pack to ease the swelling and cover the blister with a soft plaster or dressing. Specialist blister plasters, available from a pharmacist or even the supermarket, can protect the area and help it heal. Resist the temptation to burst a blister – you are more likely to introduce infection than if you let it sort itself out. Again, don’t pick at it or try and peel the skin. Put the offending shoes in a cupboard until the blister has healed.
If a blister does look infected – it is red, hot and filled with pus – then see a GP or nurse practitioner.
Athlete’s Foot (tinea pedis)
This is a common fungal skin infection that affects the feet. It can cause problems all year round but is more common when feet get hot and sweaty. Kids of all ages can get it – not just teenagers! It usually affects the web spaces in between the toes but can also affect the soles or sides of your feet. Typically it causes red, sore flaky patches, which can be itchy or even painful if the skin cracks and bleeds. There are several creams, powers and sprays available from your pharmacist that can treat athlete’s foot. If one doesn’t work, try another.
The next important thing is to try and make sure it doesn’t keep coming back.
· Keep your feet clean and dry
· Dry between your toes after bathing or swimming
· Wear clean cotton socks every day and take your shoes off when at home.
· Try to avoid wearing shoes for more that 2 days in a row.
· Use a separate towel for your feet and wash it regularly. Don’t share it with others as fungal infections can spread to other people.
My summer first aid kit includes:
Sun screen SPF 30 or above with a high UVA rating too.
Calamine and aqueous cream
Cool pack kept in fridge or freezer
Paracetmol and ibuprofen (as liquid or tablets depending on the age of your kids)
Antihistamine (as liquid or tablets depending on the age of your kids)
Hydrocortisone 1% cream (mild steroid)
Clotrimazole 1% cream (anti fungal)
O’tom tick twister - tick remover
Dr Molly Anderson is a GP at Gillingham Medical Practice and The Fontmell Clinic. She is also a mother of 2 young girls.