What You'll Learn
What is Sunburn/Sun Poisoning
Sunburn, also known as sun poisoning- is the term for red, sometimes swollen, and painful skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Sunburn can vary from mild to severe.
Because of variations in the intensity of UV radiation passing through the atmosphere, the risk of sunburn increases as you approach the equator. The higher the latitude, the lower the intensity of the UV rays.
On a minute-by-minute basis, the amount of UV radiation is dependent on the angle of the sun. The greatest risk is at solar Sunburn and is a very common condition. According to the CDC, in the United States, approximately 50% of adults age 18 to 29 report having at least one sunburn in the preceding year.
A mild sunburn does not normally require a visit to the doctor. However, if there are severe symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention.
A doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be conducted and, for more severe cases of sun damage, a person may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders or a dermatologist.
The signs and symptoms of a sunburn usually manifest as pain and are your body’s attempt to repair the damage caused by the burn. Sunburn peeling, sunburn blisters, and sunburn itch are all signs that you’ve caused severe damage to your skin.
The peeling often associated with severe sunburns is your body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells. This is necessary because sun damaged cells are at risk of becoming cancerous. Even though new layers of skin form, some damage remains, and there can be an increased risk of skin cancer.
The symptoms of sunburn vary from person to person. You may not notice redness of the skin for several hours after the burn has begun. Peak redness will take 12-24 hours.
Minor sunburns typically cause nothing more than slight redness and tenderness to the affected areas.
- In more serious cases,
1. Blistering can occur
2. Extreme sunburns can be painful to the point of debilitation and may require hospital care.
- In much more severe cases, symptoms include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- In extreme cases, symptoms of shock can occur, for instance:
- Low blood pressure
- Extreme weakness
Sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes, but the harm is often not immediately obvious.
After the exposure, skin may turn red in as little as 30 minutes, but most often takes 2-6 hours. Pain is usually most extreme 6-48 hours after exposure. The burn continues to develop for 24-72 hours, sometimes followed by peeling skin in 3-8 days. Peeling and itching may continue for several weeks.
It is important to start treatment for sunburn as soon as possible. Sun poisoning can lead to permanent skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. The following are some simple ways to ease the discomfort of sunburn; however, it important to bear in mind that the best way to relieve suffering is to avoid being sunburned in the first place:
- Pain relief – over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief such as “ibuprofen” or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can help relieve the pain and reduce swelling. It is best to take these as soon as possible. Some pain relief can be applied as a topical ointment.
- Hydrocortisone Cream – may also help reduce inflammation and itching.
- Drink water to help rehydrate the skin. Dehydration can worsen the condition
- Don’t touch and break small blisters – allow them to run their course. If one breaks, clean it with mild soap and water.
- Do not pick on blistered skin. Continue to apply moisturizer and wait till your skin starts to smooth up.
- Cool the skin. Apply a damp cloth or towel, or take a cool bath.
Does Sunburn Cause Permanent Damage
Yes. Sun poisoning early in life increases the risk of developing skin cancer later on. Repeated overexposure to ultraviolet rays can also scar, freckle, dry out, and wrinkle the skin prematurely. In addition, frequent overexposure to ultraviolet rays can increase the risk of developing eye cataracts and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
What First-aid Measures Should be Taken with Sunburn
If symptoms of severe sun poisoning are present, the individual should contact their doctor, urgent care facility, or emergency department. If compresses are applied, they should be dipped in cool or tepid water, not cold water.
If the symptoms of sun poisoning are mild or moderate, the person should drink plenty of water to replenish the fluid lost from the sunburn and to avoid dehydration. Other simple home remedies for sunburn can also be done.
Home Remedies For Sunburn
When cleaning the area, use cool water, don’t scrub the area, and use a mild antibacterial cleanser to remove any excess drainage, being careful not to rub too hard. Don’t use a cotton ball on the popped blister, as the small fibers may stick to the wound and increase the chance of an infection.
How can Sunburn Blisters be Prevented
The best way to prevent blisters is to protect your skin. When you’re going to be outside, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours while actively outside. Wear protective clothing to protect your skin, like wide-brimmed hats that shade your face.
It’s also helpful to check your medications before going out into the sun. Some medications, like antibiotics, may cause an increased likelihood of burning. Both oral and topical medications that treat acne can also cause significantly increased sensitivity to the sun.
If you suspect that you’ve gotten a sun poisoning, cool off as soon as possible to lessen the extent of the burn. Stay indoors or in the shade, drink plenty of water, and rinse your skin with cold water if possible.
- Do not use butter – this is a false remedy that can prevent healing and damage skin
- Apply moisturizer – for instance, aloe vera gel.
- Stay out of the sun – avoid making the burn worse by exposing it to more UV.
- If the sunburn is severe enough, oral steroid therapy may be prescribed for several days. However, steroid creams placed on the skin show minimal to no benefit.
- If blistering is present, steroids may be withheld to avoid an increased risk of infection. If the patient is dehydrated or suffering from heat stress, IV (intravenous) fluids will be given.
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