Despite our best intentions and precautionary measures, sunburn accidents happen. Just a little too much time in July’s harsh UV rays or a hasty sunscreen application can leave you suffering with red, painful skin. Below, we offer info on the symptoms, treatment, and risks of sunburn.
A sunburn is an inflammatory reaction of the skin caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Symptoms generally set in about 4 hours after sun exposure, and include:
- Red, swollen, and painful skin
- Skin that feels itchy or warm to the touch
Pain worsens and peaks 24-36 hours after sun exposure. Skin peeling may occur 3-8 days after exposure.
When to Seek Care
Most sunburns are mild and can be treated at home. Take a cool bath or use cold washcloths to soothe your skin and calm the burn. Keep the affected area moisturized by applying a gentle lotion to damp skin. If it is safe for you, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin, can help ease pain and reduce swelling. Topical 1% cortisone cream and aloe vera can also provide relief. Wear loose clothing and remember to drink plenty of water.
For more severe sunburns, our urgent care center is here for you. Visit our clinic if you experience:
- Severe sunburns –with blisters– covering more than 15% of the body
- Sunburn accompanied by high fever (>101°F), nausea, chills, dehydration, and/or confusion
- Signs of infection (draining pus, red streaks, worse pain after day 2)
- Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours
Understand The Risks
People with fair skin tend to burn most easily, but anyone can get burned. Even if you tan rather than burn, or have a dark skin type that doesn’t redden, overexposure to the sun can cause cellular damage. Skin damage from sun exposure leads to premature aging and skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Just one blistering sunburn during childhood can double your chance of developing melanoma in your lifetime! It’s also important to note that skin damage is cumulative, which means it builds over time. Each sunburn increases your risk of cancer.
Take steps to prevent sunburn. Check out the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Daily Sun Protection Guide to learn how, and know that our friendly medical team is here when you need care and advice!