What is sun poisoning? Simply stated, it does not mean you have been poisoned – it’s a term used to describe someone who has a severe case of sunburn.
Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin that is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. UV rays are most intense at noon and the hours immediately before and after (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.), particularly in the late spring, summer, and early autumn. Although they are less concentrated at other times of the day and year, UV rays can still damage the skin and eyes – even in the dead of winter and on cloudy or rainy days. UV rays “bounce” off reflective surfaces – including water, sand, and snow. UV rays from tanning beds will inflict similar damage if the skin is overexposed.
Sun poisoning is the most severe case of a sunburn The ultraviolet, UV, radiation from the sun can start to burn your skin in less than 15 minutes if exposed to direct sunlight without the protection of any sunscreen. While those with light hair and fair skin will burn quicker than others, sun poisoning is a threat to everyone who spends too much time in the sun.
Sun poisoning also isn’t always noticed immediately. Initially, the sunburn may look like a normal sunburn. But, if it has developed into sun poisoning, the following symptoms will be noticed:
- While a normal sunburn will cause redness on the skin, excessive redness could indicate skin poisoning.
- Excessive blistering may indicate sun poisoning.
- Any swelling associated with the sunburned area is a cause for concern.
- A normal sunburn will be painful. The pain associated with sun poisoning can be excessive.
- Any tingling or numbness of the limbs or extremities could indicate sun poisoning.
- Sun poisoning can cause headaches.
- A fever associated with a sunburn would require medical care.
- Chills can be associated with sun poisoning.
- Sun poisoning can also cause nausea.
- Dizziness associated with over-exposure to the sun would require medical attention.
- Dehydration is the body’s inability to stay hydrated. Sun poisoning will drain the body of fluids.
If any of the above symptoms accompany a sunburn, immediate medical advice should be considered. Severe cases of sun poisoning can cause serious health issues, and, in extreme cases, even death.
Signs and Symptoms of Sun Poisoning
Sunburn is a very common condition in the United States. Approximately 30% to 40% of adults and close to 80% of children and adolescents report having at least one severe sunburn in the preceding year. Over the last twenty years, risks from UV rays have increased greatly.
While all reported cases may not qualify as sun poisoning, it’s important to know that within just 15 minutes of being in the sun, you can become sunburned. You might not know it right away – redness and discomfort usually only show up hours later. It’s the primary reason people remain in the sun longer than they should.
Those who fail to use sunscreen effectively, or who have light or fair skin, are at higher risk for sun poisoning.
Immediate symptoms of sun poisoning can include:
- Hot, red, tender skin
Pain when the skin is touched or rubbed
Several days after exposure the skin may:
Sun Poisoning Preventions
The easiest way to protect against sun poisoning is to stay out of the sun. The UV rays from the sun will start to burn the skin as soon as it makes contact. Staying out of the sun is not a reality for most people. Here is a list of tips to keep your skin protected when it is exposed to direct sunlight.
- Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 will protect against both UVA rays and UVB rays. Applied at least 30 minutes before the skin is exposed to the sun, it will provide up to two hours of protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Most sunscreens will wash off when wet, so swimming and sweating should be considered.
- Alternating being in the sun and sitting in the shade will also allow you to stay outside longer without risking sun poisoning.
- The sun is strongest between ten o’clock in the morning and around two o’clock in the afternoon. Limiting your time in the sun during those hours will lessen the risk of over-exposure to the sun.
- Catching some rays around water, snow, or sand will reflect and magnify the sun’s rays. Limiting exposure or increasing sunscreen applications should be considered.
- Sunglasses will help shield your eyes.
- Hats, especially wide-brimmed ones, will help shield the sun.
- Large, loose-fitting clothing can also help to keep the skin protected.
It’s also a good idea to check with your doctor if you are taking any medications. Some medications can cause the skin to be more vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays.
Long Term Effects of Severe Sunburn
Although the visible signs and symptoms of the sunburned skin may go away within hours, days or weeks, the long-term effects will remain with you forever.
There are a number of long-term, adverse, effects on your skin and health as a result of over-exposure to UV rays.
Skin cancer is one of them – this gradually develops as we age. Melanoma is one of the fastest growing types of cancer in the world. More people suffer from skin cancer today compared with just ten years ago. The rising occurrence of this serious cancer is in part attributed to repeated sunburns, especially those that occur in early childhood.
Skin growths and lesions – Sunburns can lead to changes in the skin and result in skin growths called actinic keratosis. These growths are normally non-cancerous, but if left untreated they can become malignant.
Suppression of the immune system can also be caused by sunburn. When the skin becomes burned the distribution of white blood cells can be adversely affected. When this happens the ability to fight off infections becomes suppressed. After each sunburn this suppression can last up to 24 hours, however, in the case of repeated burns, the suppression can become permanent.
Premature aging is the most visible sign of repeated sun exposure and the occurrence of sunburns. The long-lasting effects are seen in the appearance of freckles, wrinkles, dry leathery skin, dark spots, and sagging skin.
Finally, and least discussed, is the risk of developing damage to the eyes. Cataracts (the lens of the eye) and macular degeneration (damage to the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye) can occur from overexposure to UV rays and can lead to severe sight impairment, even blindness.
Learn more about how to treat your skin after a sunburn and what can be done to reverse the signs of years of sun damage in our articles below. You can also check this very informative infographic on Sun Poisoning made by Hxbenefit.
Sun Poisoning Treatments
Whether you have a sunburn, a severe sunburn, or sun poisoning, you will want to address the issue as soon as possible. A simple sunburn can usually be relieved by getting out of the sun, applying a soothing moisturizer or aloe to the burn, and drinking plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter pain medication can even be used for the pain associated with a mild sunburn. But, a severe sun burn or sun poisoning will require more intensive treatment, maybe even medical treatment. Here are some signs to look for that would indicate severe sunburn or sun poisoning as well as how each is treated.
- If blisters caused by a sunburn are excessively large or painful, a doctor may need to prescribe a medicated salve to relieve the pain as well as antibiotics in case of any infection caused by the blisters.
- Swelling in the facial area is an indication of dehydration caused by sun poisoning. It may even be accompanied by swelling in the hands and feet as the body is trying to maintain needed fluids. A doctor will be able to prescribe steroids and other medicines to ease the swelling.
- If you experience fever and chills associated with a sunburn, a doctor should be consulted. Your body is fighting a battle to restore its fluids and will need medical help to recover.
- Upset stomach is also your body telling you it needs help. It’s not associated with a normal sunburn.
- The dehydration caused by sun poisoning will keep needed fluids away from the brain causing headaches, confusion, or even faintness. A medical professional will be able to offer the best means of relief.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sun Poisoning
How do I know if I have sun poisoning?
You should only feel mild pain and see a mild redness on your skin with minimal blisters if its just a sunburn. Anything worse than that can indicate sun poisoning.
Can I stay in the sun longer if I’m drinking water?
While water will keep you hydrated, it will not stop you from getting sun poisoning.
Will a tanning bronzer protect my skin from UV rays?
All products are different. As long as it has a broad-spectrum sunscreen in it, you should be safe. Always read the label.
Can I get sun poisoning on a cloudy day?
Yes. The sun’s UV rays will permeate the clouds and damage your skin.
- Sunscreen: New Guidelines this Summer (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Frequently Asked Questions About Sunscreen (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Signs of Sun Damage & How to Prevent Sun Damage (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Professional Treatment of Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Repairing Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)