That young Kiwi and Australian children have been so badly sunburnt they have been admitted to hospital burns units is “disturbing”, says specialist dermatologist Juber Hafiji.
Australian researchers investigated the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand to determine the number ofpatients admitted to hospital for sunburn in the 10 years from 2010 to 2019. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week [May 13].
The research showed that 167 people had been so badly sunburnt they had to be admitted for in-patient treatment by specialist burns teams – six of them in intensive care. Of the total, 22 patients were aged 12 months or younger and 18 were under five years old. The largest group were five to 14 year olds, making up nearly a quarter of cases.
The numbers did not include patients treated for sunburn at home, by a GP, or as hospital outpatients.
Dr Hafiji, based in Hawke’s Bay, said the numbers were alarming given “New Zealand and Australia have the highest cases of melanoma skin cancer in the world.
“And the numbers in this report are just the tip of the iceberg as they have only counted extreme cases – those who land up in hospital. We really do need to start taking this much more seriously. By not protecting ourselves and our children, we are setting ourselves up for serious, even fatal, skin cancers.”
He said while the numbers were very low compared to other causes of burns, “sunburn is entirely preventable and we shouldn’t have any at all in hospital”.
“That our babies, with their very sensitive skin, are getting sunburnt when we know how damaging and dangerous it is and it is so easy to prevent, is disturbing.”
The researchers expressed the same sentiments in their report. “Despite widespread campaigns about sun protection and the availability of sun protection products, the number of patients with sunburns severe enough to warrant admission to a specialist burn service for management for this entirely preventable injury is concerning.”
“Prevention is so easy and it could save your life”, said Dr Hafiji. “Wear protective clothing and stay in the shade when you can; and when you are in the sun slop on sunscreen regularly; slap on a hat; and wrap on some sunglasses.”