Too many young Victorians requiring emergency medical treatment for sunburn

Friday 24 February, 2023

Last year was the third-highest year on record with 344 emergency presentations to Victorian hospitals for sunburn.

SunSmart Victoria is deeply concerned about the high number of young adults and adolescents requiring emergency medical treatment for severe sunburn.

New data from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD) shows from July 2004 to June 2022, there have been over 4,700 presentations to emergency departments with the principal diagnosis of sunburn, with half being adolescents and young adults (10–24 years old).

The data shows in total, 897 older adolescents (15–19 years), the most of any age group, have required assistance from our Victorian emergency departments for severe sunburn, closely followed by 882 young adults (20–24 years) and 602 younger adolescents (10–14 years).

Head of SunSmart, Emma Glassenbury, says that over the summer daily routines can change, and people typically spend more time outdoors, leading to more incidental UV exposure and increased sunburn and skin cancer risk.

"People may be surprised to learn that severe sunburn requires emergency medical treatment. It is alarming to see Victorians, particularly children and young adults, needing to visit hospital emergency departments as a result of severe sunburn. We know there is significant burden on our health system and seeing as this is entirely preventable, we need to do everything we can to prevent this type of harm," says Ms Glassenbury.

Director of the Victorian Melanoma Service at the Alfred Hospital, Associate Professor Victoria Mar, said that it is concerning to see emergency departments consistently treating severe sunburn, as this is preventable with proper sun protection.

"When you have sunburn, your skin cells are significantly damaged. The damaged cells send signals throughout the body and cause pain, heat, swelling, tenderness, and blisters. These symptoms can last for days, and people should do everything they can to prevent this damage," Associate Professor Mar says.

"While sunburn is an immediate result of UV damage, ongoing UV exposure is a major contributing factor to skin cancer. Over 2,800 Victorians are diagnosed with melanoma each year,1 the most aggressive form of skin cancer, so practising safe sun protection habits will lower your risk of sunburn and, in turn, melanoma," Associate Professor Mar says.

SunSmart Victoria recently launched the SunSmart Global UV app, bringing location -specific sun protection advice to your fingertips no matter where you are in the world.

SunSmart encourages Victorians, including teenagers, to download the app and set reminders, so they know when to use five forms of sun protection and prevent sunburn and UV damage.

“Because you can’t see or feel UV, you can easily be caught out. It’s vital to remember to protect yourself from UV using the five SunSmart steps – covering skin with clothing, wearing a sun protective hat, reapplying sunscreen every two hours, seeking shade and wearing sunglasses," Ms Glassenbury says.

"It is critical that all Victorians know when to protect their skin from the sun’s UV and pay extra attention during the months of November to February, when we see the highest number of presentations to emergency departments," Ms Glassenbury says.

For the best protection during the daily sun protection times, use all five SunSmart steps:

  1. Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  2. Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Apply 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours.
  3. Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  4. Seek shade
  5. Slide on sunglasses

For more information visit: www.sunsmart.com.au.

- ENDS -

  1. Victorian Cancer Registry. Cancer in Victoria: Statistics & Trends Report 2021. Cancer Council Victoria: Melbourne, Victoria, 2022.

 

About the research

The Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset (VEMD) comprises de-identified demographic, administrative and clinical data detailing presentations at Victorian public hospitals with designated emergency departments. Data on presentations to Victorian emergency departments due to sunburn (ICD category L55) from the 2004-05 through to the 2021-22 financial years were provided to SunSmart Victoria, via the Victorian Agency for Health Information (VAHI). Results were restricted to presentations where sunburn was the principal diagnosis.

The VEMD provides information for:

  • epidemiological purposes
  • health service planning and coordination
  • policy assessment and formulation
  • clinical research
  • quality improvement and patient management.

Total emergency department presentations for a principal presentation of sunburn in Victoria from 2004-5 to 2021-22, by age.

Age group

Count of sunburn presentations

% of all presentations

00-04

379

7.93%

05-09

391

8.18%

10-14

602

12.60%

15-19

897

18.77%

20-24

882

18.46%

25-29

450

9.42%

30-34

310

6.49%

35-39

204

4.27%

40-44

193

4.04%

45-49

154

3.22%

50-54

97

2.03%

55-59

73

1.53%

60+

147

3.08%

Grand Total

4779

100.00%

 

Emergency department presentations for a principal presentation of sunburn in Victoria, 2004-05 to 2021-22

Financial year

Number of sunburn presentations

2004/05

163

2005/06

229

2006/07

138

2007/08

181

2008/09

315

2009/10

261

2010/11

330

2011/12

305

2012/13

226

2013/14

267

2014/15

216

2015/16

224

2016/17

367

2017/18

289

2018/19

342

2019/20

223

2020/21

359

2021/22

344

Grand Total

4779

 More information about the SunSmart Global UV app: 

The SunSmart Global App was developed in collaboration with national and international partners. It was designed alongside ARPANSA, The Bureau of Meteorology and Deakin University’s Applied Artificial Intelligence Institute (A2I2). Internationally, the app is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). 

 The SunSmart Global UV app provides real-time and forecast UV levels for locations across Australia and the world and translates this data into clear, evidence-based health advice from Cancer Council to help drive change ensuring recommended sun protection measures are advised when appropriate.