It is important for all of us to protect ourselves from the effects of the sun, but it is essential for a child who has only half a working heart. Here are some top tips for enjoying the sunshine whilst keeping safe.
Lots of nice cold drinks, little and often
It is very easy to dehydrate when you are out in the sunshine or the weather is hot. All children with half a heart need a balanced amount of fluid in their body to help the blood flow through the heart smoothly. It is also important that children on Warfarin do not become dried out as it can affect the speed at which blood clots. A plant shows us when it is dry by wilting, children don't always ask for a drink so offer regular fluid in the shape of drinks and ice lollies.
Always carry a bottle of water with you, you don't need to keep buying the expensive spa type just buy a sports bottle and refill it from the tap. Pop it in the fridge overnight so that it is cold and refreshing for the morning.
Babies who are only drinking milk need to have their normal amount of feed but might need some cold, previously boiled water in between feeds to keep their fluid levels up.
Protection from the sun
Children's skin is very sensitive, especially along the scar area, and so they burn easily in the sun. Also some medications make the skin even more sensitive. Always protect their skin by using sun cream. It is often useful to buy a good quality product as they tend to have a longer lasting effect. High factor creams are essential for children. Tanning is not a priority at their age, just being out in the sun will give them a healthy glow.
Make sure that their shoulders are covered and that they are wearing a hat and sun glasses, proper UV light protection ones.
Always make sure that there is shade in the garden, park or beach. Umbrellas and little play tents can be useful. Sun shades on a pram or pushchair and sun protectors in the windows of cars all help to protect a baby or child from too much sunshine.
A baby or child with sunburn is very unhappy.
Children do overheat but even in the sun they can get cold.
If you are going out and about always dress your child in lots of thin layers so that they can have as many or as few layers on as they need to keep them warm but also to keep them cool.
A change of clothes is essential even for older children if there is water in the park or if you visit the beach as the tendency will be for children to find water. Children with half a working heart get cold quickly even in the sun so a towel and fresh clothes will soon warm them up.
Always remember waterproofs because the weather has a tendency to change very quickly and a sudden downpour can leave a child soggy and cold.
Energy levels in the sun
When the sun is shining we all move outdoors. It is great to get some fresh air. When children are outside they often run around more and will therefore tire easily. Plan activities and plan short breaks. Just 10 minutes sitting down before your child is up and playing again can be enough to give them a good rest. Even on the beach or at the park have a story book or colouring to hand so that you can entertain your child whilst they take a break. Wax crayons may not be a good idea though as they have a tendency to melt!
Swimming with only half a heart
Swimming is great exercise for children with heart conditions, the water supports their body making exercise a little easier, as long as the children don't take part in competitive swimming it can be fun and good for them at the same time.
There are however some simple tips that can make the experience a bit safer. All children should learn how to swim properly, you never know when they may fall into water. Either teach them to swim yourself or enrol them into swimming lessons at the local pool or through school (during the summer access to the pool for the children is often free or at a reduced price). As long as the instructors understand the heart problem and the child's limitations it can be a great experience.
Make sure that the child is warm when they swim. In most public swimming pools the water is kept warm. The air outside the pool may be cooler so a towel close to hand to wrap around a child as soon as they get out of the pool can reduce blue lips and shivering. If they are swimming in the sea or an outside pool a small wetsuit can keep them warm. They are now easily available in motorway service stations, large supermarkets and sports shops and don't cost a fortune.
Remember if they are swimming outside in swimming costumes you need to cover their skin in waterproof suncream and if they are not diving under the water a cap keeps the sun off their eyes.
Eating in the heat
Not many of us want to eat large heavy meals when the weather is hot and the sun is shining. Children with half a heart are no different but we all know that they need the calories to fuel their heart and help them grow.
Lots of small meals and planned snacks that are filled with calories will help to keep their intake high. Ideas include fat filled ice-cream, sandwiches filled with protein like eggs, ham or peanut butter, finger food like chicken dippers, mini sausages or cheese chunks and chopped up vegetables like carrot and celery and milkshakes made with fruit and ice-cream. These are all good fun and tempting for a tired, hot child.
Medicines in the sun
Even when the sun shines children need to take their medications. Some children need them even when they are out and about. If your child is taking liquid medications it is often important to keep them cool. A little ice pack bag with drinks and medications stored in it will keep them safe.
Remember to pack some Calpol or Paracetamol because a child who becomes over hot or even slightly burnt will need something to settle them and reduce their pain and temperature.
Little Hearts Matter wishes you all a great time over the summer, just keep safe in the sun.