SunSmart Victoria's Plea: Protect Yourself This Summer to Avoid Sunburn-Related Emergency Visits

Thursday 21 December, 2023

SunSmart Victoria is warning Victorians that between November and February, we are 11.5 times more likely to require emergency assistance because of sunburn compared to the rest of the year (March - October).

While many of us have fond memories enjoying the great outdoors last summer, new data from Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD) shows that last year 274 Victorians ended up in the emergency department with severe sunburn.

Since records started in July 2004, more than 5000 people have presented to Victorian emergency departments with a diagnosis of sunburn.

Head of SunSmart, Emma Glassenbury, says considering sunburn and damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is preventable, this alarming number represents an unnecessary risk increasing people’s likelihood of developing skin cancer, and an unnecessary burden on the state’s health system.

“Between November and February, the UV index in Victoria will consistently reach high and extreme levels. In some parts of our beautiful state, UV levels are strong enough to cause sunburn in as little as 11 minutes without sun protection.

“This is our peak period for sunburn, which is an immediate result of UV damage causing pain and trauma to the skin that can increase your risk of developing skin cancer later in life,” Ms Glassenbury says.

Daily routines can change over summer as people typically spend more time outdoors. With warmer, drier conditions forecast this year, SunSmart is encouraging Victorians to cover up when the UV is 3 or above to avoid a trip to the emergency department.

“We need to remember that sunburn and UV damage is preventable. Every time you head outdoors, you need to check the UV level and if it is 3 or above, cover up using all five forms of sun protection,” Ms Glassenbury says.

The latest data also revealed of the 5053 presentations to emergency departments for principal diagnosis of sunburn from July 2004 to June 2023, half were aged between 10-24 years (49.63%). In the age group 0-14 years, a higher proportion of boys (60.55%) than girls presented to ED with sunburn. Whilst among teenagers and young adults aged 15-24 years, a
higher proportion of females (53.25%) than males presented to ED with sunburn. 

Director of the Victorian Melanoma Service at the Alfred Hospital, Associate Professor Victoria Mar, says it’s worrying that we continue to see high numbers of teenagers and young adults present to emergency departments to treat a condition that is avoidable.

“The latest data shows too many young Victorians continue to risk their skin when enjoying the outdoors over summer. Severe sunburn requires urgent medical attention to treat symptoms such as extensive blistering and pain, headache, nausea and vomiting, fever, or dizziness,” Associate Professor Mar says.

“While we can treat the immediate symptoms, we cannot undo the UV damage that’s been done. UV damage during childhood and adolescence significantly increases the risk of skin cancer.

“The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and you can protect yourself and your family by using sun protection. We want all Victorians to enjoy a sunburn-free summer and to see a noticeable decline in the numbers of youth presenting to emergency departments for severe, and preventable, sunburn,” Associate Professor Mar says.

Even on cool and cloudy summer days, UV can cause damage and sunburn. To avoid getting caught out, SunSmart encourages Victorians to download the free SunSmart Global UV App for real-time, location-specific UV and sun protection advice.

“We urge people to cover up this summer to protect their skin from sunburn, and protect their future-selves from skin cancer, by wearing a hat, sunglasses and clothing, applying sunscreen and enjoying shady spaces outdoors,” Ms Glassenbury says.

For more information or to download to SunSmart Global UV App, visit www.sunsmart.com.au

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