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Safety Pro

Summer Sun and Fun

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06/01/2011 - School's out so it's time to throw the kids outside for their physical health and your mental health, getting them off the screens and doing something constructive. That may be true for you, too, with gardening, the pool, or other activities that require waiting through the rest of the year to do. No doubt, that equates to fun in the sun and working those tan lines.

With all the hype about sun exposure and the hazards of too much sun, what should we do to protect ourselves and our kids from high exposure? Here are some tips to keep you and yours safe outdoors.

Sunburn. You may not think of it as a true hazard but simply an inconvenience from being in the sun too long. Sun burn is a first degree burn that triggers a painful response to the touch as it gets just into the dermal layer of the skin. This is where the 'live' skin cells are along with the sensory nerve endings that allow you to sense heat and pain.

A body that has more than 75% of the skin surface burned – displayed by red skin (lobstering) is classified as a critical burn due to the amount of skin surface damaged. At such a critical level, it is recommended that you get medical attention. If blistering occurs with it, you have moved from first degree to second degree burn. This is when the full dermal layer of skin is damaged so that underlying cells actually leak fluid and blister along with a greater level of pain.

You can prevent sun burn through the use of sun screen. An adult should use a sun screen rated at SPF 15 or higher where children should be protected with a screen of SPF 30 or greater. Be sure the screen protects from both UV-A and UV-B rays. Re-apply the screen every two hours or immediately after getting out of water.

Small children and infants should be kept out of direct sun as their ability to sweat and other protective measures are not fully developed. Dress them (and you) in lightweight and light colored clothing to maximize reflection of sunlight rather than absorbing it into darker clothing.

One additional caution to preventing sun burn – sand reflects the light rays from the sun. If you are at the beach and enjoy laying on the sand, you can burn the bottom of your feet, making it incredibly uncomfortable and painful for walking.

If you can't prevent its occurrence, treat sun burn by cooling the surface of the unbroken skin and cover it with dry, clean clothing or lightweight material. For just an arm, leg, or back of the neck, you can use sun burn sprays that evaporate quickly, removing the heat from the skin. Cool water is also an option. For large areas of burned skin, you must be careful that you don't 'hypo-cool' the body, creating a condition called hypothermia, especially in children.

Have fun and be smart about sun exposure.

Randy DeVaul (safetypro@roadrunner.com) is a 30-year safety professional and emergency response instructor. Comments always welcome.

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