Sun Poisoning

Everyone knows getting too much sun can lead  to painful burns. Sometimes those painful burns lead to sun poisoning. Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to recognizing sun poisoning, how to treat it, and how to prevent it. 

What is sun poisoning?

Sun poisoning is a severe sunburn. It typically develops as a result of longer exposure to direct sunlight and may feel like a regular sunburn at first. However, sun poisoning is a more serious medical condition. The short-term effects of sun poisoning present themselves in the first four to seven days with more severe long-term effects extending past the first week. 

The main symptom is a burning ‘rash’ where the skin reddens, dries up, and peels. Sun rash is a very itchy, widespread red rash. It’s not uncommon for small bumps, resembling hives, to develop as well. The more severe symptoms of sun poisoning include: 

  • Swelling
  • Large blisters
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Dizziness 
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Fainting 
  • Dehydration 

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. Sun poisoning can increase the risk of developing skin cancer if not treated properly. If you are experiencing a sunburn, sun poisoning, or sun rash, avoid being in the sun as continued exposure can make it worse. 

How do you treat it?

Much like a mild sunburn, there are a few things you can do to help relieve symptoms and lessen the pain caused by sun poisoning. 

  • Apply aloe vera gel to the affected areas
  • Apply cool compresses several times a day for 10-15 minutes 
  • Add a few heaping tablespoons of baking soda and a cup of oats to a cool bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. Dab yourself dry with a towel – don’t rub the skin
  • Drink lots of water to replenish the moisture your body lost while in the sun 
  • Use cool (not cold) water when bathing and avoid scented items like lotions, bath salts, oils, and perfumes because they may react negatively with the burnt skin 

If you find yourself dealing with a sun rash, similar steps can be taken. 

  • Apply aloe vera gel to the affected areas
  • Apply a cold compress using diluted water, apple cider vinegar, milk, or baking soda and leave on for 30-60 minutes, repeating as needed
  • Use an anti-itch cream to protect your skin. If the itching worsens, your doctor may need to prescribe an antibiotic
  • Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen can be taken to help reduce swelling, redness, or discomfort if they’re not prohibited by your current medication regimen or primary care physician 

What can I do to prevent it? 

Preventing sun poisoning in the first place is a lot easier (and much less painful) than treating it after the fact. Luckily, doing so is pretty easy.

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating
  • Avoid the sun when its rays are strongest – between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm 
  • Wear clothes that cover your arms and legs
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face, head, neck, and ears
  • Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays
  • Stay hydrated

For more information related to summer safety, read our post about recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke here. The knowledgeable staff of Freestone Medical Center and Clinics are here to answer any questions you may have when it comes to keeping yourself and your family safe this summer and beyond. Give us a call at (903) 389-2181.