Sun Poisoning Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

May 18, 2023

Sun poisoning is a severe complication of a sunburn that may need medical attention. While a sunburn causes redness of the skin and can heal itself within a few days, sun poisoning manifests as blisters or hives and can get worse without treatment. Those with pale skin or limited sun exposure are at greater risk of sun poisoning.

Here’s what you need to know about sun poisoning, including the symptoms, how to prevent it, and when to seek medical care. For acute sun poisoning, visit the walk-in clinic at AFC Urgent Care Waltham for treatment!

How to identify the signs and symptoms of sun poisoning

It can take less than 15 minutes of sun exposure to get a sunburn, although the redness associated with a sunburn may not show up until hours later. Spending any length of time in the sun after getting a sunburn can result in sun poisoning, even if the burn has not shown up yet. Sun poisoning can show up within hours or days of getting a sunburn. Symptoms can last for days or even weeks if untreated.

Another common symptom is sun poisoning rash, also called sun rash or sun allergy. It’s an itchy, widespread rash, sometimes containing small bumps that look like hives. Sun poisoning can also cause blistering, which usually looks like small, white bumps filled with fluid.

Tips for preventing sun poisoning

The best way to prevent sun poisoning is to stay out of the sun, especially on cloudless and very hot days. Make sure to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and to reapply sunscreen every two hours. If you sweat profusely or go swimming, dry off and reapply sunscreen right away. Avoid spending time in the sun between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Wear UV protective clothing and accessories, such as long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses.

Be aware of certain conditions that can increase the risk of sun poisoning, such as lupus and eczema. If you have these conditions, take extra care to avoid prolonged sun exposure. Certain medications can also make you more susceptible to sun poisoning, such as some antibiotics, acne medications (including retinoids), antidepressants, antihistamines, and antifungal treatments. Talk to your doctor about whether your prescription or over-the-counter medications increase your sun sensitivity, and take the necessary precautions to avoid sunburn and sun poisoning.

Treatment options and when to see a medical provider

It’s crucial to seek treatment for sun poisoning as quickly as possible. Without early and proper treatment, sun poisoning can lead to skin cancer. If you have mild sun poisoning or sunburn, you can try a few remedies at home to relieve symptoms. Make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of cold, sugar-free, and caffeine-free liquids. A sports drink like Gatorade may be extra helpful due to the electrolytes. You can take ibuprofen and apply a soothing topical cream like aloe vera or coconut oil to manage the pain. Cold compresses made of equal parts milk and water or using aloe vera gel may help.

Avoid taking hot baths or showers, and don’t use abrasive or scented skincare products like lotions, bath salts, or scrubs. Also avoid shaving or exfoliating the area of the sunburn. And, of course, avoid further sun exposure. If your sunburn worsens or you experience severe sun poisoning symptoms like fever, fainting, stomach pain, headache, chills, or dehydration, you need to seek medical attention immediately.

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