by Dr. Leah Hastings, Pediatrics, Silver Lake Clinic
Much is said about the importance of sunscreen in the prevention of skin cancer, but do you know at what age it is safe to use sunscreen? How much and how often to apply? What other measures can you take to protect your child against the heat and sun of the summer?
For infants less than 6 months of age, it is safer to avoid the sun during the peak times of 10 am and 2 pm. If you must be out during those times or really any other time of the day, keep your infant covered with a hat and long sleeves/long pants. Use sunscreen only on the small uncovered areas of the body such as the hands, feet and face with care to avoid the eyes. Not only can infants get sunburned very easily, but they also can get overheated easily.
For children older than 6 months of age, apply sunscreen to the exposed areas of the body. Most people do not use enough sunscreen so make sure you apply a thick layer. Use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15-50. There is no sunscreen that is truly waterproof so reapplication is crucial, at least every two hours and less, especially after swimming or sweating.
Older children can also get overheated although not quite as easily as infants. Make sure to have adequate water available. For most children this will be enough. They do not need Gatorade or another electrolyte-containing fluid.
During the summer months, we often see an increase in injuries whether on the sports field, the playground or in the water. Here are a few ideas to consider when fun is on the agenda. Younger children under five years old should play on equipment that is separate from older children. Young children under age 4-5 should not be on climbing equipment that is taller than them. Make sure playgrounds have safe ground cover under the equipment such as wood chips, rubberized material or sand.
In the pool, an adult should be within an arm’s length of toddlers. Even for older children an adult should be available for focused supervision, not on the phone or reading. Swimming lessons are recommended for most children four and older and even for certain children under age four.
Lastly, the risk of sports injuries can be lessened with a few steps. Wear proper gear depending on the sports. Stretch before and after practice or a game. Strengthen muscles with conditioning exercises. Know when to stop because of pain. Take breaks during the year, ideally a couple months long, to prevent overuse injuries.
With a few basic steps, you and your children are ready for a fun and safe summer.
Dr. Leah Hastings is a board certified pediatrician who sees patients at The Everett Clinic, Silver Lake Clinic. She is an American Academy of Pediatrics fellow and a former U.S. Army Major. She earned her medical degree at the Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Iowa. She joined the U.S. Army while she was in medical school and served as general medical officer including a deployment to Afghanistan as well as an Army pediatrician.