Contributor: Matthew Goldman, MD
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You get a sunburn. It’s that familiar tenderness — the red shoulder or thigh that momentarily turns white when you press a finger against it.
But then, things take a turn. You develop a rash that starts to itch like mad. You start getting the chills and/or you get extremely thirsty. What could it be? These are a few possible symptoms of sun poisoning.
Symptoms of sun poisoning
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-kissed skin patch.
Sun poisoning can cause a range of symptoms (depending on the severity). These may include:
- Shortness of breath.
Sometimes, it also causes blisters, especially on the lips.
Less-known facts about sun poisoning
Sun poisoning isn’t well understood. Here are some less-known facts about it:
1. Causes aren’t clearly understood. 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, yet sun poisoning does not affect everyone.
2. Most people don’t realize what can put you at risk. 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.
3. Treatment varies depending on your specific symptoms. Sun poisoning affects different people differently so doctors tend to focus treatment on a patient’s specific symptoms.
4. Suspected cases warrant a doctor’s visit. If you have symptoms of sun poisoning, it’s important to see your medical provider. After examining you, he or she can determine the severity of the problem as well as the best treatment.
How to prevent sun poisoning
To prevent sun poisoning, you want to take the same precautions that help you avoid sunburn.
Do the following:
- Use sunscreen. Use broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30; apply 15 to 30 mins before sun exposure and reapply at least every 2 hours.
- Avoid peak hours in the summer months. This means stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Be aware of medication side effects.
- Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves, sunglasses, gloves and broad-brim hats. Tightly woven fabrics, thick and/or dark-colored clothing are also useful for protection.
- Keep infants younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight.