Summer was my favorite season as a child. At that time of year, my juvenile arthritis (JA) symptoms improved. Besides the warm weather helping my joints to feel less stiff, I loved the break from school. Instead of being cooped up all day, I spent my time biking and swimming, both of which are excellent exercises for people with arthritis. Overall, I felt much better in the summer.
But life wasn’t necessarily easier in the summer. Sun sensitivity can be a big issue for some kids with JA, depending on the treatments they use. Some summers, I turned pink having spent barely a half-hour outdoors.
Some arthritis medicines can cause sun sensitivity. Phototoxicity is the most common reaction, causing severe sunburn even with short periods of sun exposure. Some people may get rashes or have a photoallergic reaction. But there’s no need to keep your child indoors if you’re diligent about sun safety.
Be attentive to applying and reapplying sunblock. Choose protective clothing when possible, especially if your child will be outdoors for an extended period. Long-sleeved UV protective shirts are ideal for amusement parks or at the beach where shade is limited. Swim shirts can also help to keep kids covered up. Use an umbrella to provide additional shelter for a child in a wheelchair or a stroller.
Adjust your hours
You might want to keep your child inside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. But the summer fun doesn’t have to stop indoors. I loved to have “picnics” on the kitchen floor with my dolls and pretend to go camping by making tents in the living room. My family took advantage of the morning and evening hours to engage in outdoor activities. I took morning bike rides, and I loved swimming at night.
Thankfully, I’ve avoided painful, blistering burns. But I have had many close calls, even while wearing sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Be open to a change of plans if your child seems to be getting too much color during the day. I often ducked into stores, restaurants, movie theaters — anywhere I could get out of the sun quickly. During a recent trip at an outdoor shopping center, I ran into a nearby movie theater to avoid sunburn and watched “Pokémon Detective Pikachu.” It was a lovely and unexpected twist to the day.
With the arrival of summer, it’s important to talk to your child’s rheumatologist about sun sensitivity. Not all kids with JA will be affected. But for those who are, it’s critical to take proper precautions to avoid painful burns.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.