Sunburn in the baby
Sunburns are caused by the increased exposure of the sun to UV rays on the skin.
Especially with babies and toddlers, care should be taken to ensure adequate sun protection, as they are more sensitive to sunburn and the resulting damage can still be noticeable in adulthood. Sunburn is usually symptomatic of a warm, painful, sharply defined reddish rash. Babies in particular are particularly susceptible to thermal influences due to their high body surface to body mass ratio.
Also read what to do if a child is sunburned: Sunburn in the child - you should do this urgently
Sunburn is caused by the increased exposure to UV radiation on the skin.
This is particularly important in summer and at lunchtime, as this is when the radiation intensity is highest. The radiation leads, on the one hand, to direct damage to the skin cells, followed by an inflammatory reaction, and, on the other hand, to a change in the DNA structure, which in the long term can lead to a remodeling of the cells and thereby trigger skin cancer. The direct, superficial damage manifests itself primarily through reddening, overheating, pain and possibly itching.
How do I know if my baby is sunburned?
The most noticeable symptom of sunburn is the red color of the skin.
However, it should be noted that the rash is usually delayed. So it may be that no change can be seen while staying in the sun. Other noticeable complaints are overheating of the corresponding surface and pain. Itching can also occur. In this case, the baby's behavior can be observed. At the same time, sunburn should always be feared when staying in the sun, so the baby's skin should be checked after exposure to radiation.
The most prominent symptom is the resulting rash, also known as "erythema solare". This manifests itself as a red color, overheating, pain and possibly itching.
More severe sunburns can also lead to swelling and blistering. In this case and with all of the following symptoms, a doctor should be consulted. Other possible symptoms are fever, dizziness, nausea, fainting and severe pain. An infection of the sunburn is also possible and can express itself as pus leakage. Not to be confused with sunburn is sun allergy, which rarely occurs in combination with it.
You may also be interested in this topic: Sun allergy in the child
Reddening of the skin
The reddening of the skin is the most typical sign of sunburn and is usually flat and sharply defined.
The sharp boundary is created by the demarcation between the garment and exposed skin. The cause of the reddening is, on the one hand, a local inflammatory reaction and, on the other hand, a compensatory increased blood flow to the skin, which is supposed to transport away the excess heat. The radiation-induced damage to the skin cells leads to the release of inflammatory mediators, which in turn cause inflammation. This manifests itself primarily through pain, warmth and redness. Swelling and functional impairment are also possible.
If swelling of the affected area, for example the face, occurs as part of a sunburn, this indicates severe sunburn and should be clarified by a doctor.
The cause of the swelling is the inflammatory reaction, which is associated with increased blood flow (Hyperemia) goes hand in hand. The increased water pressure in the blood vessels causes the water to be squeezed out into the surrounding tissue. Among other things, this transports immune cells into the tissue, which can prevent or fight an infection there.
Pain is the third most common symptom, alongside the red color and overheating of the skin. The reason is, on the one hand, the strong irritation of the skin, which makes any additional irritation painful. In most cases, already tight clothing or lying on the affected area is sufficient.
The inflammatory reaction releases inflammatory mediators such as prostaglandins. These cause a stronger sensation of pain in the inflamed area. In addition, they can trigger an upregulation of body temperature and thus a fever. A doctor should be consulted if the pain is very severe.
When should I see a doctor with my baby?
The classic sunburn is also known medically as a first-degree burn. However, if burn blisters develop, it is already a degree 2a burn.
As a rule, a classic sunburn, i.e. a first-degree burn, does not require a doctor's visit. There are, however, a few exceptions, which will be dealt with below. If it is a very large burn, a visit to the doctor can be useful, as this is associated with a greater likelihood of complications such as fever, dizziness, nausea and the like. A doctor should also be consulted in the event of complications or noticeable changes of any kind. These include burn blisters, pus, a rash that changes on the outside, fever, dizziness, nausea, fainting and swelling.
Read more on this topic at: Burns in the baby
Treatment of sunburn in a baby
The treatment of a complication-free sunburn can be roughly divided into two phases. A distinction is made between acute treatment and long-term treatment. Above all, however, the symptoms are alleviated and the sunburn is not cured.
In acute treatment, the affected area can be cooled. This reduces the pain and removes excess heat from the overheated skin. Cold compresses such as wet towels or cooling creams are suitable for this. Applying quark also has a cooling and anti-inflammatory effect. In the case of a very extensive sunburn, general cooling should not be used, otherwise there is a risk of the baby becoming hypothermic.
You should also drink enough water, as the body loses fluids through sunburn. After the immediate, cooling measures, certain ointments (e.g. aloe vera), creams or after-sun lotions can be applied. These have a low cooling effect and donate moisture to the stressed skin. Very oily or greasy creams are not recommended as they create a kind of seal on the skin, which means that the overheated skin cannot radiate heat and overheating can result. Burn blisters should not be opened because of the risk of infection.
Read more on the subject at: Baby skin care
In addition to home remedies such as cooling compresses and the application of aloe vera, globules can also be used to alleviate the symptoms.
Which remedy is the right one depends on the phase of the sunburn and its severity. Belladonna (deadly nightshade), Cantharis, Causticum, Aconitum and Apis mellifica are often used. These are often used in a potency of D12 and a dosage of 5 globules, three times a day. However, this should be clarified and discussed with a homeopath.
Duration of sunburn in the baby
The duration of a sunburn depends on the intensity of it and therefore varies between two and 10 days.
It is important not to expose the skin to solar radiation again during recovery, as this not only extends the duration, but also causes more damage to the skin. The prognosis for first-degree burns is very good; in almost all cases they heal without scars and only leave behind a darker pigmentation, which corresponds to the classic “browning”. In some cases, flaking occurs over time, which is also known as "peeling". This leads to a kind of rejection of the damaged skin cells. Further long-term consequences are described in the next section.
What can be the long-term consequences?
As mentioned above, the top layers of the skin can flake off weeks later, which is then often noticeable as reduced pigmentation and lighter skin.
Another, significantly worse consequence is skin cancer. The so-called black, malignant skin cancer is particularly feared. Studies have shown that increased exposure to the sun during childhood in particular has an impact on the development of skin cancer. UV radiation is classified as the main risk factor for black skin cancer, which is why adequate sun protection for babies is of great long-term importance.
Further information: Sun protection for children - helpful tips
Sunburn on the face in the baby
Unfortunately, facial sunburn is very common in babies.
This is mainly due to the fact that these are usually very well protected by clothing and only the face is exposed to the sun. Rubbing off applied sunscreen is also a problem as babies are unaware of the importance of protection. The skin on the face is very sensitive and therefore prone to sunburn. In addition, babies usually have a very pale skin tone and therefore hardly have any protection of their own. As a precaution, a very large hat is recommended, as it hardly disturbs the baby and can offer good protection.
Sunburn on the cheeks in the baby
Reddened cheeks are a very common symptom in babies and young children. This often occurs in the context of sunburns, as the babies' cheeks protrude slightly and they can therefore be exposed to vertical radiation.
As with sunburn on the face, regular application of sunscreen and a hat that is large enough is recommended. However, it should be noted that reddened cheeks do not necessarily represent sunburn in babies. In addition to the fact that these often occur without a specific reason, other causes such as childhood illnesses, infection or fever are possible and a doctor should be consulted if necessary.
Read more on this topic at: Rash on baby
Can my baby get sunburn through a window?
This question is a little more difficult to answer and depends on the type of window.
There are three types of UV radiation. Two of them, namely UVA and UVB radiation, pass through the ozone layer and reach people. However, only long-wave UVA radiation passes through most windows, which does not cause you to tan, but causes damage to deeper layers of the skin. Nowadays, windshields are mostly made of special glass that hardly lets UV radiation through. However, since this cannot be precisely estimated, it is advisable to ensure adequate protection despite windows.
Can my baby get sunburn despite the shade?
Unfortunately, you are also exposed to sunlight while you are in the shade. The reason is the reflection in the environment, which deflects the radiation coming from the sun and enables transverse exposure to the sun.
However, this is much weaker than the direct UV radiation. It therefore requires a longer stay in the shade or a very strong exposure to the sun, for example at noon or in more southern regions, to cause sunburn. Overall, staying in the shade should by no means be underestimated.
What prophylaxis is there?
Preventing sunburn in babies is extremely important and is often done incorrectly. Most babies have a very light skin tone and, unlike adults, do not yet have self-protection. Therefore, just 10 minutes in the blazing sun are enough to cause sunburn. In any case, there should be adequate protection.
This can be achieved by minimizing exposure to the sun as much as possible and avoiding it at noon. Furthermore, the baby should be covered with clothing from top to bottom. It should also be ensured that clothing is protected from the sun. This is often marked with the UV standard 801. A hat that protects the neck and face is essential. Sunglasses and shoes / socks are also good options if they can be implemented.
When using sun creams, you should make sure that they are special creams for babies and children. Adult creams are not suitable for children. In addition, the sun protection factor should be at least 30, better 50 or more.