Definition

What is sun poisoning?

Sun poisoning doesn’t really mean you’ve been poisoned. It is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn. This is usually a burn from ultraviolet (UV) radiation that inflames your skin.

Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar burn can follow overexposure to a “sun” (UV or tanning) lamp. UV radiation can also damage the eyes, although no surface burn is apparent.

How common is sun poisoning?

Sun poisoning is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of sun poisoning?

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:

  • Swelling
  • Large blisters
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms:

  • A sunburn that forms blisters, covers a large area, or is very painful
  • Facial swelling
  • Fever and chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache, confusion, or faintness
  • Signs of dehydration

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes sun poisoning?

Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun.

 

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sun poisoning?

Persons with certain pigment disorders (such as albinism) and persons with fair skin are at highest risk of suffering a burn.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sun poisoning diagnosed?

In many cases, doctors can diagnose sun poisoning simply by looking at the skin. But if the diagnosis isn’t clear-cut, you may need tests to help identify what’s going on. These tests may include:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light testing. Also called phototesting, this exam is used to see how your skin reacts to different wavelengths of ultraviolet light from a special type of lamp. Determining which particular kind of UV light causes a reaction can help pinpoint which sun allergy you have.
  • Photopatch testing. This test shows whether your sun allergy is caused by a sensitizing substance applied to your skin before you go into the sun. In the test, identical patches of common sun allergy triggers are applied directly to your skin, typically on your back. A day later, one of the areas receives a measured dose of ultraviolet rays from a sun lamp. If a reaction occurs only on the light-exposed area, it likely is linked to the substance being tested.
  • Blood tests and skin samples. These tests usually aren’t needed. However, your doctor may order one of these tests if he or she suspects your symptoms might be caused by an underlying condition, such as lupus, instead of a sun allergy. With these tests, a blood sample or a skin sample (biopsy) is taken for further examination in a laboratory.

How is sun poisoning treated?

Treatment depends on the particular type of sun poisoning you have. For mild cases, simply avoiding the sun for a few days may be enough to resolve the signs and symptoms.

Medications

Creams containing corticosteroids are available over-the-counter and in stronger prescription form. For a severe allergic skin reaction, your doctor might prescribe a short course of corticosteroid pills, such as prednisone.

The malaria medication hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) may ease symptoms of some types of sun poisoning.

Therapy

If you have a severe sun allergy, your doctor might suggest gradually getting your skin used to sunlight each spring. In phototherapy, a special lamp is used to shine ultraviolet light on areas of your body that are often exposed to the sun. It’s generally done a few times a week over several weeks.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sun poisoning?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with 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.
  • Wear a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and says “broad-spectrum” on the label, which means that it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Put it on all over about 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply at least every 2 hours and after you’ve been sweating or in the water.
  • Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and remember that water, snow, and sand can intensify the sun’s damaging rays.
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.
  • Check on your medications. Ask your doctor if anything you take might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. For example, some acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs, and birth control pills make skin more sensitive. So can some antibacterial medications and fragrances that go on your skin.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 4, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017

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