Severe sunburn sees more than one child a week admitted to WA hospitals


In the burns unit of Perth's busy children's hospital, staff are treating young babies for sunburn.

It is not the result of neglect but rather well-intentioned parents leaving their children in the shade believing they were protected.

"They have thought, 'I have sat in the shade, I have protected my child from the sun', not realising the ultraviolet rays are being reflected," Perth Children's Hospital Burns Unit clinical nurse consultant Tania McWilliams said.

"It can easily, easily happen. So, it is very distressing for the family definitely."

Some of those were so severely burned, they were given pain killers, treated with intravenous fluids and admitted.

Cases 'essentially doubled' in six years

More than one child a week under the age of 10 was taken to WA emergency departments with severe sunburn in 2019, according to figures released by the Cancer Council.

And that number has almost doubled since 2014.

In 2014, 34 children were treated in WA emergency departments.

By 2018, that number had risen to 63.

The Cancer Council of WA's SunSmart manager, Mark Strickland, said while there was a drop to 59 last year, the overall trend was a worry, given sunburn in children was a major risk for skin cancer later in life.

"The rise is across the board but certainly it is the zero-to-nine age group that we are seeing a significant number of cases there," Mr Strickland said.

"So, over the six years of data that we have got, those numbers have essentially doubled."

The figures — collected from hospitals by the Cancer Council — show a total of 292 people were seen in a WA emergency department last year, compared to 185 in 2014.

"If we are seeing this 10 per cent rise year on year, it's going to become a population health issue for us," Mr Strickland said.

"UV radiation damages the DNA in our skin cells and we then need our immune systems to kick in and repair that damage.

"If the immune system fails to fix that, the damage becomes permanently locked into the skin cells and that is then the first step on the road to skin cancer."

Prevention 'crucial'

Ms McWilliams said parents should seek early treatment if their babies or children get sunburnt, but she said prevention was crucial.

This means not taking babies outside when the UV rating is high and keeping them covered, even in the shade.

For older children, her advice again was to cover up and to keep reapplying sunscreen, especially after swimming and active sport.

"Obviously wearing a hat, wearing protecting clothing, going out in the shade, wearing sunglasses — prevention is the most important thing," Ms McWilliams said.

Geraldton — a sun-drenched city on the mid-west WA coast — celebrates its bright days with an annual Sunshine Festival.

This week, as families enjoyed the last weeks of the school holidays on the popular foreshore, two people were sunbaking, most were wearing hats and many children were wearing protective tops.

Geraldton mother of two Hayley Halton said she was conscious of protecting her own children after a childhood of rarely covering up at the beach.

It was the days before rash vests and she did not always wear sunscreen.

"As a teenager, I had moles removed … I definitely have to look after the kids' skin," Ms Halton said.

Geraldton woman Karen Ivey, sitting further up the beach wearing a hat, said she had seen attitudes towards sun protection change for the better.

"I think it is a lot better than what it was," Ms Ivey said.

"Everyone just wanted to get brown and get a tan so you would put oil on. It was pretty bad."

(Source)


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