Pediatric Associates of the NW Blogs

Gearing Up for Spring Break

Whitney Casares, MD, MPH
March 22, 2012 09:36AM

Spring Break is here for most Oregon kids! For some, that means travel to warmer places for the week. We often get calls during Spring Break about 2 major problems: sunburns and swimmer’s ear.

Sunburn and Sunscreen:

All kids over six months should use sunscreen, even when the weather is cloudy. Pick one that has “broad spectrum” on the label – a broad spectrum sunscreen helps protect against sunburns and skin cancer. The sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 15 and needs to be applied 30 minutes before going outside so it has time to absorb into the skin. Rub it in well and make sure to get all of the areas that will be exposed so that your child is fully protected.  Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or any time after swimming or sweating.

Babies under six months don’t need sunscreen. They shouldn’t be in the sun long enough to need it! Applying sunscreen can give parents a false sense of security that their baby is protected against sun exposure and studies show they are more likely to be exposed to sun than those young babies without sunscreen. For these little ones, make sure that they are in full shade under an umbrella, a stroller canopy or a tree. Don’t forget hands and feet. If their hands and feet are not covered, they can get burned, too!

You can help prevent sunburns by following these rules as well:

  1. Limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm – that’s when the UV rays are the strongest.
  2. As much as possible, dress kids in cool, comfortable clothes that cover the body – a tightly woven fabric will protect better than a loosely woven fabric.
  3. Wear a hat/cap with a brim and sunglasses to protect the face and eyes. Sunglasses should have at least 99% UV protection.

If your child does get a burn, you can treat it yourself if it is mild. Apply cool compresses to the burned areas. You also can give acetaminophen (make sure the dosing is correct for his or her weight) to help relieve the pain.

You should talk with a health professional if the sunburn causes headache, fevers, chills or blisters. Severe, extensive sunburns can sometimes require hospitalization and must be treated like any other serious burn. The blisters can also become infected, requiring antibiotics, and really bad sunburns can lead to dehydration.

Swimmer’s Ear:

Swimmer’s ear is an infection or irritation of the skin lining the ear canal. It can happen when water gets trapped in the ear canal. The lining gets swollen and wet, making it more likely for a superficial ear canal infection to develop. Swimmer’s ear is not contagious.

Kids with swimmer’s ear often feel like their ears are itchy or plugged and they can have a small amount of clear discharge in the ear.

Children that have severe or constant ear pain, fever, redness/swelling of the outer ear or yellow ear discharge need to be seen right away by a health professional to make sure there is not an inner ear infection, a bad skin infection, or a really bad swimmer’s ear that can’t be managed with home treatment.

For mild swimmer’s ear with none of the signs mentioned above, parents can try white vinegar rinses for pain and symptom control. Take a break from swimming while the ear recovers and try to towel off ears after swimming, taking a shower or washing hair.

No children with ear tubes or a hole in their eardrum should use vinegar rinses.

To rinse the ear with vinegar:

Rinse the ear canals twice daily with ½ strength white vinegar (dilute with equal parts warm water):

  1. Have your child lie down with the ear bothering them facing up
  2. Fill the ear canal with the solution
  3. Wait 5 minutes, then remove the vinegar by turning the head and moving the ear

Swimmer’s ear and sunburns are common issues kids face on vacation. Protect your children against sunburn and be on the lookout for swimmer’s ear. We hope you have a safe and happy Spring Break!