It’s that familiar tenderness you associate with the average sunburn — the red shoulder or thigh that momentarily turns white when you press a finger against it.
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But then, things take a turn for the worse after a few hours. You develop a blistering rash that itches and burns like mad. You start getting the chills and/or you get extremely thirsty. You might even experience nausea. These are a few possible symptoms of what we know as sun poisoning.
Family medicine doctor Matthew Goldman, MD, explains what sun poisoning is, how long it can last and ways you can prevent it from happening.
Even though sun poisoning isn’t a formal medical term, we’ve all heard of it. It often mimics a flu bug or allergic reaction. As a result, you can find yourself shivering in bed with a headache, fever and chills — all wrapped up with the redness, pain and sensitivity of a sun-scorched skin patch.
Sun poisoning can cause a range of symptoms (depending on the severity). These may include:
Sometimes, it can also cause blisters to form on your lips.
The answer is a complicated one. When you have sun poisoning, you’re not actually poisoned by UV (ultraviolet) rays. What you’re actually experiencing is intense pain and other reactions from the damage dealt to your skin. If you’re experiencing sickness, nausea, dizzying or general illness, chances are, this is as a result of being severely dehydrated.
It’s important that if you experience any of these symptoms, you drink plenty of water and electrolytes to keep yourself hydrated and clear-minded. It’s also important to avoid touching the affected areas whenever possible.
Sun poisoning can last weeks depending on the severity of the burn. If you scratch or pick at the burn, you run the risk of getting an infection. If you notice any bleeding or oozing, you should see your doctor immediately because it could be a sign of infection.
Treatment for sun poisoning can include:
Sun poisoning isn’t well understood. Here are some important things to know:
There are a lot of possible causes for sun poisoning and in some cases, it has no known cause. Sun poisoning is more likely to occur in some people than others, especially if you have fair skin, have a family history of skin cancer or live near the equator. Still, sun poisoning does not affect everyone.
Certain pre-existing conditions, medications and/or chemical exposure may predispose someone to sun poisoning. This can include lupus, certain antibiotics, topical medications or contact with certain plants.
Sun poisoning affects different people differently, so doctors tend to focus treatment on a person’s specific symptoms.
If you have symptoms of sun poisoning, it’s important to see your medical provider. After examining you, they can determine the severity of the problem, as well as the best treatment.
To prevent sun poisoning, you want to take the same precautions that help you avoid sunburn. Here are some important tips to follow the next time you go outside: