Six-year-old diagnosed with rickets after using sunscreen

A six-year-old boy with a love of the outdoors has been diagnosed with rickets after his mother smothered him in sunscreen every time he went out to play.

By Hayley Dixon

6:56AM BST 13 May 2013

Suzi Head believed that she was protecting her son, Chris, when she was applying factor 50 sunscreen as he spent most of his days in the garden.

But it meant that the football and cricket loving six-year-old has little exposure to direct sunlight, our main source of vitamin D.

Mrs Head has been told that sunscreen is thought to be behind her son’s rickets, the bone softening disease caused by low levels of the vitamin.

The 17th Century disease was almost eradicated in the 1940s, but has been making a comeback in recent years.

It is thought extensive use of sunscreen by parents anxious about skin cancer, children spending more time playing computer games and watching TV and a poor diet are to blame.

Vitamin D is generated from sunshine and certain foods.

Chris first developed joint pain when he was three and would wake up during the night screaming in pain.

Mrs Head, 43, of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, told the Daily Mail that her son had difficulty sleeping and she constantly had to give him Calpol and ibuprofen.

Despite repeated trips to the doctors over a two year period she was told it was growing pains.

But when he started school Chris was referred to a paediatrician who diagnosed serious vitamin D deficiency and rickets.

The mother of two, who had to give up her work as a teacher due to ill health, said: “I was really shocked when we got the diagnosis. Chris has a balanced diet and plays outside all the time.

“The doctor told us that the sun was the main source of vitamin D but that using a higher factor sunscreen could stop your body from generating it.

“After we got home I did some research about rickets and found that Chris had every symptom. Since then I've met other mums with children suffering from a similar thing. You're told that the sun is dangerous and you think that by buying the highest factor sunscreen you're protecting your family, when that isn't necessarily the case.”

Unless he is going to be in the sun all day she does not apply sunscreen to her son now, and he spends short bursts of time outside in the morning or evening to make sure he gets vitamin D.

It is hoped that he eventually he will fully recover from all the symptoms as he is being treated with vitamin D drops.

However, he is still experiencing pain in his bones so his mother fears that some of the damage may be permanent.

Paediatric surgeon Professor Nick Clarke warned that it was a “growing problem” as children are outdoors less than ever before and sunshine is practically their only source of vitamin D.

He said: “This can have important consequences for adult life and we are now linking vitamin D deficiency to multiple sclerosis.”

Rickets causes the bones to become soft and can lead to bone deformities. It is often characterised by an appearance of bowed legs.

It was almost eradicated in Britain after World War II in part due to the fortification of foods such as margarine and cereal with vitamin D, and is linked with increased exposure to sunlight.

Doctors have now said it is making a comeback in the UK, due to a combination of social and economic factors including diet and time children spend playing outside.

It causes the bones to become painful, soft and weak and leads to deformities of the skeleton, such as bowed legs, curvature of the spine and thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees.

It is treated through diet and supplements.