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Sun Poisoning - Pictures, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on January 9, 2014

The term ‘sun poisoning’ does not refer or indicate an actual instance of getting poisoned by the sun. It is used to describe a case of severe sunburn. It typically refers to a burn caused by the ultraviolet rays of the sun which inflames the skin.

Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

It is possible to develop a sunburn after spending just 15 minutes in the sun. However, affected individuals may not become aware of this right away. The discomfort and redness associated with a sunburn may take a few hours to appear on the skin.

People who spend prolonged hours under the sun without wearing adequate sun protection can experience severe sunburns. Also, people with light hair and fair skin are more prone to developing cases of sunburns.

Some of the signs and symptoms of sun poisoning or severe sunburn are listed below:

  • Dehydration
  • Reddening and blistering of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Tingling sensations as well as pain
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Chills and fever
  • Fainting or dizziness

Treatment of Sun Poisoning

It is possible to treat severe sunburn or sun poisoning via the below listed simple home remedies:

  • Avoid any exposure to hot sun rays for some days
  • Keep the body hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Use cool compresses. Cool and not cold baths or showers are also helpful
  • Apply a moisturizer or aloe gel on the affected areas
  • Pain killers may be taken to alleviate the pain
  • If you have to go out, then ensure that all skin areas affected by sun poisoning are completely covered

It is important to seek urgent medical attention in the following scenarios:

  • A case of sun poisoning that is spread over a large part of the body, or is extremely painful, or results in formation of blisters
  • Chills and fever
  • Swelling of the face
  • Digestive problems
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion, disorientation, and/or headaches

It is possible to prevent sun poisoning or severe sunburn by following the below mentioned sun safety guidelines:

  • Limit the contact with sun between 10 in the mornings to 2 PM. It is important to note that snow, water, and sand can magnify the damaging rays of the sun.
  • Use a sunscreen that is ‘broad spectrum’ with a minimum SPF value of 30. Such a sunscreen will protect the skin from both the ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays of the sun. Apply the sunscreen all across the body about 15 to 30 minutes before venturing out into the sun. It is important to reapply the cream after perspiration and being in water, or after every two hours.
  • There are certain medications like some antibiotics, diuretics, oral contraceptives, acne drugs, antidepressants, and cardiac medications that can increase the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight. Consult a doctor about the effects of such drugs, if you are taking any.
  • Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a cap or a hat

Other forms of Sun Poisoning

There are two other types of reactions to the sun which can also be referred to as sun poisoning. They are solar urticaria and polymorphous light eruption.

Solar urticaria

The symptoms of this type of sun poisoning develop after just a few minutes in the sun. If large sections of the skin get affected, then the patient may elicit the below listed symptoms:

  • Itchiness
  • Wheezing
  • Redness
  • Formation of elevated regions or wheals on skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blistering of skin
  • Dizziness

The blisters disappear on their own after a few hours; but recurrence may continue for many years. Antihistamines are helpful. However, patients should consult a doctor when affected by recurrent cases of solar urticaria

Polymorphous light eruption or PMLE

It is a skin rash that develops in people who are photosensitive or increasingly sensitive to sunlight. It can also develop in individuals who are not used to intense sunlight. For example, people living in the northern latitudes may experience PMLE while vacationing in tropical regions. It may also be noted that polymorphous light eruption has no known association to diseases or the use of certain medications.

In addition to the severe skin rash, which typically occurs after some hours out in the sun, patients may also elicit the following symptoms:

  • The rash may be itchy
  • The sections of skin exposed to the sun may develop tiny bumps
  • The bumps may appear as dense clusters
  • The chest, lower legs, and arms may form hives

Native Americans may suffer from an inherited type of PMLE which can appear between spring and fall. Burning sensations, redness, and itchiness may either last for 2 to 3 days or continue for weeks. Other symptoms which last for just a few hours include chills, fatigue, nausea, and headache.

The PMLE/sun poisoning rashes fade away on their own in a week or ten days. Patients only need to stay indoors and avoid the sun, or use adequate sun protection when outdoors.

PUVA phototherapy and/or topical steroids may be recommended by doctors for severe cases of PMLE or solar urticaria.

Sun Poisoning Pictures


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