While sun poisoning isn’t really poisoning

It is a serious condition meaning that one has a severe sunburn from ultraviolet (UV) radiation that inflames the skin. It can also be linked to the polymorphous light eruption and solar urticaria. Within 15 minutes of being in the sun,  a person can get a sunburn without being aware of it right away.

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Avoid sun poisoning by practicing sun safety. Use a 30 SPF (or higher) sunscreen and wear sunglasses and protective clothing.

Redness and discomfort might appear within a few hours and one can become severely sunburned due to prolonged sun exposure and no protection. For those who are fair-skinned and have fair hair, the risks are higher.

Severe sunburn or sun poisoning symptoms include the following:

  • Skin redness and blistering.
  • Pain and tingling.
  • Swelling.
  • Headache.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Dehydration.

Sun poisoning can also refer to other types of sunlight reactions involving the immune system. If a patient is taking certain drugs, chemicals, then sun poisoning can result in an exposure. The other type is a systemic disease but the cause is unknown.

According to WebMD, “At least one in 10 Americans is affected by PMLE [polymorphous light eruption], a reaction that does not appear to be linked to drugs or diseases. More common in women than in men and beginning at any age, PMLE occurs in people who are susceptible and are exposed to the intense sunlight that they are not used to. For example, people living in northern climates could experience this if taking a winter vacation in a tropical climate.”

In some cases, this reaction does improve each year but if treatment is not given, then the reaction becomes more extensive with symptoms typically appearing within 30 minutes to several hours of sun exposure. Symptoms can include:

  • Small bumps all over the body.
  • Dense clumps of bumps.
  • Hives, usually on the arms, lower legs, and chest.

Native Americans tend to have a hereditary form of PMLE that can last from spring until fall. Symptoms start with redness and can burn and itch, usually lasting from two or three days to persisting for weeks. Other symptoms can begin within a few hours of being in sun exposure and disappear within hours. These include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Chills
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Solar urticaria.

Symptoms may develop within minutes of exposure to the sun. If large areas of skin are involved, symptoms may include:

  • Itchiness.
  • Redness.
  • Raised areas on the skin (wheals) or blisters.
  • Wheezing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Although the blisters usually go away within a few hours, one may experience the reaction off and on for years. If you have a severe sunburn, try these simple remedies recommended by WebMD as they usually take care of the problem:

  • Get out of the sun.
  • Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath or apply cool compresses.
  • Drink extra fluids for a few days.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Use aloe gel or another moisturizer.
  • Completely cover sunburned areas when going outside.

Seek immediate medical care for 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.

Don’t forget the basics of sun safety by applying sunscreen (SPF 30 minimum) to all exposed areas of the skin 15 to 30 minutes before heading out. Reapply every two hours. Refrain from sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) and don’t forget sunglasses and protective clothing.

To read more about the symptoms and treatment of sun poisoning, click here.

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