Sunburn – Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention
What is sunburn?
Sunburn is a type of skin irritation or inflammation that occurs due to overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or other ultraviolet rays. Our skin is protected by a pigment called melanin. Sunburn happens when the exposure to ultraviolet rays exceeds the protective capability of melanin.
What are the risk factors for sunburn?
The following factors can make sunburn more likely:
- Infants and children (their skin is more sensitive to the burning effects of the sun).
- People with fair skin (more likely to get sunburn).
- The sun’s rays are strongest during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sun’s rays are also stronger at higher altitudes and lower latitudes (closer to the tropics). Reflection off water, sand, or snow can make the sun’s burning rays stronger.
- Sun lamps (can cause severe sunburn).
- Certain medicines, such as doxycycline can make your skin easier to sunburn.
- Some medical conditions, such as lupus can make you more sensitive to the sun.
What are the symptoms of sunburn?
The initial symptoms of sunburn may not appear immediately. The symptoms may appear after 24 hours or longer. Symptoms of sunburn are temporary, but the damage to skin cells is mostly permanent. By the time the skin starts to become painful and red, the damage has been done. Pain is worst between 6 to 48 hours after sun exposure.
The following are the possible symptoms of sunburn:
- Red, tender, skin that is warm to the touch
- Painful and irritated skin
- Blisters that may develop hours to days later
- Severe reactions including fever, chills, nausea, or rash
- Skin peeling on sunburned areas several days after the sunburn
- Swelling and itching of the skin
How is sunburn diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. The exam focuses on looking at your skin. The doctor may ask the following questions:
- When did the sunburn occur?
- How often do you get sunburn?
- Do you have blisters?
- How much of the body was sunburned?
- What medicines do you take?
- Do you use a sunblock or sunscreen? What type? How strong?
- What other symptoms do you have?
How is sunburn treated?
Treatment of sunburn includes self-care, pain relievers, and creams to relieve pain, itching, and inflammation.
Do the following if you do get sunburn:
- Take a cool shower or bath or place clean wet, cool washcloths on the burn.
- Wear loose cotton clothing.
- Drink plenty of water.
- If there are blisters, dry bandages may help prevent infection.
- If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort.
- Creams with vitamins C and E may help limit damage to skin cells.
- Over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, help to relieve pain from sunburn.
- Cortisone creams may help reduce the inflammation.
How to prevent sunburn?
The following are the ways to prevent sunburn:
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. A broad spectrum sunscreen protects from both UVB and UVA rays.
- Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to fully cover exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or as often as the label says.
- Apply sunscreen after swimming or sweating and even when it is cloudy.
- Use a lip balm with sunscreen.
- Wear a hat with wide brim and other protective clothing. Light-colored clothing reflects the sun most effectively.
- Stay out of the sun during hours when the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.