School is almost out and summer is right around the corner and for many families, this means a trip to the beach and basking and playing in the sun. My family just returned from a trip to North Carolina for the Memorial day weekend and for us, that means three full days of beach time. For those of us who are fair skinned and fair haired, it is extra hard work to keep from experiencing the negative effects of the sun such as sunburn, sun poisoning and resulting skin damage.
After our third day of playing on the beach, I noticed my daughter's ear lobe was swollen and oozing. We at first thought it was a bug bite since the flies were so bad at my brother's house that evening. It wasn't long before the other ear was swelling and the tops of her ears started oozing too. I realized then my daughter had sun poisoning on her ears.
I really felt mom guilt over this discovery. We all use the kids SPF 50 sun block sprays and I applied zinc oxide to my daughter's already sun burned face on our third day. She is in the water constantly and though we reapplied 5 times that day, she still experienced sun burn. I also forgot to apply anything to her ears. While her hair normally protects her ears, she was sporting new goggles on that third day which exposed her ears to the sun. Since they were unprotected, she ended up with sun poisoning.
What is sun poisoning?
Sun poisoning occurs when your skin blisters from exposure to the sun. It can occur anywhere on your body and blistering indicates a second degree burn. Sun poisoning is an umbrella term that includes two other conditions called polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) and solar urticaria (hives). PMLE is characterized by dense clusters of rashes and can include hives and blisters while solar urticaria often manifests as large, red, raised areas of skin and can include more severe allergic reactions such as wheezing. It is, in essence, an allergic reaction of the body to sun exposure. Reactions of this type may require medical assistance but often people can overcome this condition by desensitizing their bodies with small amounts of sun exposure.
How to Treat
Garden variety sun poisoning with blisters on the skin does not usually require medical assistance and can be treated at home.
First remove heat from the affected area with a cool pack or cool water, not cold. Do not break blisters as they are your skin's way of forming a protective moisture barrier and will break on their own. Apply aloe vera or triple antibiotic ointment with aloe to protect against infection and moisturize skin. Give ibuprofen for pain and swelling. Have your child drink extra fluids for a few days while healing and stay out of the sun completely.
Even with our best efforts, it can be so hard to keep an active child from getting sunburn or sun poisoning. Remember to apply sunscreen even to areas that you think may not be a worry. Reapply often and every time they emerge from the water. Have them wear hats and surf shirts and encourage them to stop and drink fluids. Most kids will play in the water until they wrinkle and many will not even think to take a break to eat and drink, but a little planning and due diligence can result in safe, fun times at the beach.