This post was last updated June 23, 2016
Sun poisoning is an extreme case of sunburn, a burn that occurs when UV radiation inflames your skin. It begins with symptoms similar to sunburn, and so it often goes unnoticed, leading to more severe symptoms and dangerous situations.
Sun poisoning is most common during the summer months and in sunny areas. Those with a lighter skin tone, specifically redheads, are most susceptible to sun poisoning. This is because their body has not had a chance to produce melanin, the pigment that absorbs UV light and darkens skin (tans) to form a protective layer.
Protection from Sun Poisoning
Take preemptive measures to avoid sun poisoning. Wearing protective clothing, like hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts, helps to block UV rays, but if you choose to show skin, do it smartly. About 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher to your whole body. The neck, legs and arms are especially susceptible to sunburn and sun poisoning. Reapply every two hours, or after you’ve been sweating or in water, and limit sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when its rays are most powerful. Check your medications to get an idea of how your skin will react to the sun; certain medications increase sensitivity, including acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs and birth control pills.
Sun Poisoning Symptoms
It takes less than 15 minutes to burn and, depending on the severity, more than those 15 minutes spent outside could result in sun poisoning. The short-term negative effects of sun poisoning manifest themselves for the next 4-7 days, with more severe long-term effects extending beyond the first week.
The main symptom of sunburn is a burning “rash” where the skin reddens, dries up and peels off. Sun poisoning’s additional and more severe symptoms include:
- Large blisters
- Rapid pulse and breathing
If you experience any of these symptoms seek immediate medical attention. If not treated early and properly, sun poisoning can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
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Treatment for Sun Poisoning
If you have mild sunburn or sun poisoning, there are a few home remedies that will lessen the pain:
- Hydrate and take ibuprofen to manage the pain.
- Cold compresses made of equal parts milk and water, or infused with Burow’s solution will help soothe the skin, and Aloe Vera gel can serve as an alternative.
- 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.
- Avoid the sun until you’re well, and take precautionary measures to avoid a similar situation!
Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE)
A special type of sun poisoning is polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), which is a skin reaction to the sun for people that aren’t used to intense sunlight. This mostly affects fair-skinned individuals who live in northern climates.
Polymorphous light eruption symptoms
Common symptoms of polymorphous light eruption include:
- Severe skin rash
- Dense clumps of bumps
PMLE may also be inherited by Native Americans. Symptoms can last from spring to fall.
Here are some simple home remedies to help heal sun poisoning:
- Avoid popping any blisters or scratching the rash.
- Take a cool (not cold) bath or apply cool compresses to soothe the swelling.
- Take ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream to relieve pain and itching.
- Drink extra fluids for a few days.
- Cover sunburned areas and put on sunscreen before going outside.
Seek immediate medical attention if the sunburn covers a large part of the body, there is a lot of pain, or symptoms worsen.