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When fun in the sun goes wrong: sun-related illnesses

First signs of sun-related illnesses to look out for

Whether your family are jetting off somewhere warm and sunny or simply planning lots of outdoor activities in NI, you need to be aware of how to keep your family protected in the sunshine.

The NHS states that children, along with the older population, are one of the most vulnerable categories of people at risk of developing heatstroke or heat exhaustion.

In response to increased visits to the NHS’ website during periods of extreme weather last year, Duncan Burton, NHS England’s Deputy Chief Nursing Officer, said, “We know there is a high risk of heat exhaustion or heatstroke during hot weather especially among children, older people and those with long-term conditions like diabetes or heart problems.

“The NHS website has a range of useful information pages aimed at helping people keep themselves and their loved ones safe during hot weather.

“Keeping the body cool and drinking plenty of fluids is vitally important, as well as dressing sensibly, using high-factor sun screen and limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun to avoid the risk of sunburn and to prevent skin cancer.”

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the precursor to sunstroke and can present as feeling tired or dizzy, having a headache, as well as feeling sick or experiencing cramps in the arms or legs. These symptoms can also be accompanied by excessive sweating, a high temperature, feeling thirsty, and overall weakness. Sometimes the patient may develop a heat rash. It’s important to acknowledge that not every child will have all of these symptoms but if they are experiencing any of them, they will need to be cooled down.

Move them into the shade, or an airconditioned space, remove any additional outer clothing, and offer cool water or a rehydration drink. You can also cool their skin using a cold flannel, fan. or cold pack. After 30 minutes they should be feeling better but encourage rest and staying out of the sun for the rest of the day.



If after 30 minutes, the child is still not feeling better, or they have any more serious symptoms such as; a very high temperature, hot, dry skin, or profuse sweating, fast heartbeat, fast breathing or struggling to catch breath, confusion, or loss of consciousness, seek medical advice immediately. Heat stroke can be a life-threatening condition and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Prickly Heat

A prickly heat rash typically presents as small raised spots, accompanied by an itchy, prickly feeling, and mild swelling. It is easily treatable at home, by drinking plenty of fluids, wearing loose cotton clothing, and applying a damp cloth to minimise the itching. However, children are susceptible to all types of rashes and it is not always immediately obvious what each rash is. If in doubt, speak to a pharmacist, who will be able to offer advice and treatment options.



If your child does burn then get them out of direct sunlight as soon as possible. A cool bath or shower can soothe the sunburn, and drinking plenty of fluids helps to keep the skin hydrated. Don’t forget to use an after-sun lotion to moisturise the area and reduce redness and inflammation. Aloe vera also has great soothing properties and is available from most pharmacies.

Tips for Staying Safe in the Sun

Reduce sun exposure between 11am-3pm

While it may not always be possible to stay out of direct sun at all times, it is best to spend as much time in the shade during the time the sun reaches the highest point in the sky. During the period between 11am and 3pm, the sun is at its strongest making it the most dangerous time for burning and other heat related illnesses

Drink lots of water

We all know it can be difficult to get kids to drink water but fluids are especially important in summer months, especially if your child is doing lots of exercise in the heat. One way to increase fluid intake is to offer ice lollies as a refreshing snack. If you’re concerned about the sugar content, make your own at home using ice lolly moulds, which are more cost-effective in the long run and easily accessible at this time of year.

Apply the highest factor sun cream

Remember to keep topping up sunscreen every two hours. It is recommended that children wear Factor 30 as a minimum, but when in doubt, use full coverage Factor 50 for that extra reassurance. Sunscreen can go out of date so make sure you check the expiry date if you’re delving into last year’s stash.

Wear a sun hat

Sun hats are an essential part of sun protection as they protect wearers from damaging UV rays as well as help to keep the whole head area cooler, which is especially important when it comes to heat exhaustion and sun stroke prevention. Despite their benefits, sun hats are often not popular with younger kids so some creative cajoling is needed. Lead by example and always wear a sun hat yourself and keep reiterating why it’s important to stay safe.