Understanding Sun Poisoning: Symptoms, Risks, and Prevention

May 14, 2024

by  | May 14, 2024 | Healthy Living

As the sun beams down, enticing us to embrace the river and the great outdoors, it’s easy to forget the potential dangers lurking in those golden rays which are increased as they reflect off the water. Sun poisoning, though not a medical term, is a serious condition, especially for those prone to sun allergies. Understanding its symptoms, risks, and ways to prevent it is crucial for safeguarding our skin health and overall well-being.

What is Sun Poisoning?

Sun poisoning, a variant of sun allergy, occurs when the immune system misinterprets sun-damaged skin cells as foreign invaders, triggering a defensive response. One common manifestation is Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE), characterized by itchy, blistering rashes, often appearing hours or days after sun exposure. While PMLE is relatively common, its severity varies, with some experiencing mild discomfort while others endure debilitating symptoms, particularly with more sun exposure if previous rashes have not yet healed.

Who’s at Risk?

Certain factors increase susceptibility to sun poisoning and include:

  • Having fair skin and/or red hair
  • Outdoor workers
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Mixing alcohol with outdoor activities
  • Living at high altitudes
  • Spraying baby oil on the skin to tan
  • Using tanning beds or lamps

Understanding Sun Poisoning’s Severity

Distinguishing between a standard sunburn and sun poisoning is crucial. While sunburns typically resolve within days, sun poisoning presents with distinctive features like blistering, peeling skin, and systemic symptoms such as nausea and dehydration. Severe cases demand immediate medical attention, as complications like infection or dehydration can exacerbate the condition.

Sun poisoning treatment is based on the individual and the severity of their symptoms.

Treatment options can include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Steroid creams
  • Cold baths or compresses
  • Topical Antibiotics
  • IV fluids if dehydrated
  • Oral Steroids
  • Prescription pain medication

Prevention is Key

Preventing sun poisoning begins with prudent sun protection practices. Limiting exposure during peak sunlight hours, between 10 am and 4 pm, especially for children, is of primary importance. Children require special consideration when it comes to sun exposure. It is important to keep children cool, hydrated, and out of direct sunlight—avoiding it altogether for any infant younger than six months. Umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats can help protect children’s skin and so can dressing them in lightweight yet tightly woven clothing that covers the arms and legs. If sun exposure can’t be avoided, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to the exposed skin of any child six months or older. It is estimated that 50 to 80% of skin sun damage that leads to skin cancers occurs in childhood and adolescence.

Tips to avoid Sun Poisoning:

  • Avoid tanning beds or lamps, base tans do not help avoid sunburn.
  • Replace sunscreen that is over 3 years old.
  • Use water-resistant, broad-spectrum lip balm and sunscreen SPF 30 or higher
  • You can still get burnt even on cloudy days, so use sunscreen.
  • Apply at least 2 TBSP of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more if swimming or perspiring.
  • Titanium oxide and zinc oxide (best for sensitive skin) should be applied over any other products.
  • Insect repellant should be applied last, over everything else.
  • Check to see if any of your medications increase sun sensitivity.
  • Wear sunglasses—the eyes are very sensitive to UV light and can get sunburnt resulting in cornea damage. Check for a UV rating label and look for wrap-around glasses for better coverage.
  • Cosmetics containing alpha hydroxy acid increase sun sensitivity, so wear with care.
  • Consider protective clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), the higher the better.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Vigilance is key in identifying when professional medical care is warranted. Symptoms such as large blisters, severe swelling, or worsening pain signal potential complications requiring urgent evaluation.

Seek immediate medical care if you are sunburned and experience:

  • A fever over 103 F (39.4 C) with vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration
  • An infection
  • Cold skin, dizziness, or faintness

Basking in the sun’s warmth offers myriad benefits, but it’s important to be aware of the hazards. Sun poisoning, though preventable, requires prompt attention. If you are concerned that you or a loved one has sun poisoning, visit us today at AFC Cleveland where we can help get you back on the path to good health.

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