Record high numbers of sunburns treated at Victorian hospital emergency departments

Thursday 25 January, 2018

SunSmart urges people to protect skin five ways this Australia Day

Victorians are urged to get SunSmart this long weekend as new data shows January is the peak month for sunburn at state hospital emergency departments, with a record 190 sunburn cases in January last year.

Public emergency department presentation data shows 355 people presented with sunburn to state hospital emergency departments in the 2016-17 financial year alone. Sunburn presentations were most common among 10-19 year olds and 20-29 year olds, however, cases appear to be steadily increasing for all age groups over the years.

SunSmart manager Heather Walker said it was alarming to see so many sunburns requiring emergency treatment.

“Sunburn is a very preventable condition, and almost all of these cases could have been avoided with the use of good sun protection,” Ms Walker said.

“Severe, blistering sunburn that requires emergency treatment is not only very painful, it also increases your risk of skin cancers, including melanoma. While sunburn will heal and fade, the UV damage to your skin can’t be undone. Over time, it all adds up to increase your risk of skin cancer.”

Ms Walker warned that all sunburn – no matter how severe – is a sign of UV damage. Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection Survey shows approximately 671,000 Victorian adults were sunburnt on weekends alone during the 2016-17 summer.

“The good news is preventing sunburn and reducing your long-term risk of skin cancer, is easy. When you’re outside during sun protection times each day, protect your skin in five ways – cover up with clothing, a hat and sunglasses, use sunscreen and seek shade,” Ms Walker said.

Victorian Melanoma Service dermatologist Dr Victoria Mar recommended people seek immediate medical attention for severe sunburn where there is extensive blistering and pain, sunburn over a large area of skin, or if they experience headache, nausea and vomiting, fever or dizziness.

“For mild sunburn, stay out of the sun while your skin heals and stay hydrated, apply cool compresses and talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on soothing the burn,” Dr Mar said.

“Remember, nothing will cure your sunburn symptoms except for time and patience. The best thing to do is to prevent it in the first place. By the time you feel a ‘sting in the sun’, that’s not heat from the sun, it’s your skin burning.”

Ms Walker said Victorians should check the sun protection times for their location and protect their skin every time they were outdoors during these times. She encouraged Victorians to download the free seeUV app, which uses augmented reality to show the strength of UV levels around you.

“You spend more time in the sun than you think. UV reaches Extreme levels across Victoria in summer and 11 minutes can be all it takes for unprotected skin to burn,” Ms Walker said.

“No matter if you’re going to be at the beach, at a barbecue or relaxing around the house over the long weekend, it is vital to protect your skin. We want you to enjoy the break – not spend it nursing sunburn.”

SunSmart Ambassador Catherine Andrews urged Victorians to protect their skin.

“This data is such a worry, especially with the hot days of summer upon us,” Ms Andrews said.

“Please do your SunSmart best and Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide whenever the UV is 3 and above. And look after your family, friends and yourself.”

For information and tips on protecting your skin this summer visit . The seeUV app can be downloaded for free on the App Store and Google Play.

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About the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset
Public hospitals in Victoria with recognised Emergency Departments (i.e. those that meet the national definition of an emergency department, including 24 hour staff and certain level of capabilities) report to the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD), as part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Victorian Health Information reporting System. VEMD data on presentations to Victorian emergency departments for a principal diagnosis of sunburn were reported monthly for each financial year from 2004-05 to 2016-17. The number of hospitals reporting to the VEMD remained stable over these years (40 campuses total).

Principal presentations for sunburn in Victorian emergency departments, 2004-2017

Year of record January total (number of presentations) Financial year total (number of presentations)
2016-2017 190 355
2015-2016 81 216
2014-2015 83 204
2013-2014 109 250
2012-2013 95 206
2011-2012 155 292
2010-2011 160 296
2009-2010 109 241
2008-2009 174 283
2007-2008 85 171
2006-2007 53 120
2005-2006 98 185
2004-2005 59 133

Principal presentations for sunburn in Victorian emergency departments in 2016-2017, by age group

Age group Financial year total (number of presentations)
0-9 years 60
10-19 years 114
20-29 years  95
30-39 years 36
40-49 years 20
50-59 years 16
60+ 14
Total 355


About the National Sun Protection Survey
The National Sun Protection Survey was conducted via phone over the summer of 2016-17. Over 3,600 Australian adults were interviewed. Conducted every three to four years by Cancer Council, the survey provides a perspective on changing trends in Australians’ sun protection behaviours and rates of sunburn over the past decade.

Weekend adult sunburn in Victoria in 2016-17– unadjusted prevalence among adults (N=693)

  Victorian adults
Sunburnt  16%
Estimated number of people sunburnt†  671K

†Estimated number of people sunburnt based on ABS population figures (from 2016) and proportion of adults (aged 18-69 years) who were sunburnt on the weekend

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