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How to tell if you have sun poisoning and what helps treat sun poisoning? Advice from a dermatologist

Alyssa Orcuilo12 Aug 2020

Dr. Tejas Patel

Tejas B. Patel, MD is a board-certified dermatologist by the American Board of Dermatology, who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. He has extensive experiences treating patients of all ages, ethnicity, and skin types. Dr. Patel attended the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, where he received his medical degree, and completed his internship in internal medicine at the University of Illinois - Chicago. He further continued his studies and completed a residency in dermatology at the University of Miami. He also holds a bachelor‚s degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is currently an Attending Dermatologist at Reforma Dermatology in Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Sun poisoning oftentimes comes from a severe case of sunburn; which is a burn from ultraviolet radiation that inflames the skin. According to Dr. Patel, “To develop a sunburn, it can take less than 15 minutes. You will start to notice a burning rash, where your skin is red. That area will eventually dry up and peel off.”

How to tell if you have sun poisoning?

Some symptoms of sun poisoning are:

• Tingling and pain

• Blistering and redness

• Headache

• Swelling

• Chills and fever

• Dizziness

• Nausea

• Dehydration

What causes sun poisoning?

You may get sunburned if you sit out in the sun without wearing sunscreen or sun protection. You‚re more likely to get a sunburn if you have light skin and fair colored hair. 

Additionally, certain medications and chemicals can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, making you more susceptible to sunburn and sun poisoning. If you have a sun allergy, or a an allergic reaction to sunlight and its UV rays, (polymorphic light eruption) this is also known as sun poisoning.

The following are risk factors for sun poisoning: 

  • Exposure to certain substances. Some skin allergy symptoms are triggered when your skin is exposed to a substance and then to sunlight. Common substances responsible for this type of reaction include fragrances, disinfectants, and even some chemicals used in sunscreens.
  • Taking certain medications. A number of medications can make the skin sunburn more quickly ‚Äî including tetracycline antibiotics, sulfa-based drugs, and pain relievers, such as ketoprofen.
  • Having another skin condition. Having dermatitis increases your risk of having a sun allergy.
  • Having blood relatives with a sun allergy. You're more likely to have a sun allergy if you have a sibling or parent with a sun allergy.
Symptoms, treatment, and prevention of sun poisoning.

What helps treat sun poisoning?

According to Dr. Patel, diagnosis of sun poisoning is usually based on clinical observations and patient history. It is important to scan the skin for an eruption of papules or plaques on the sun-exposed skin. It is crucial to rule out other photosensitive skin conditions. If needed, a skin biopsy may be helpful to exclude some disorders. 

Sun poisoning is usually self-limited – it heals by itself after some time. Depending on the extent of the damage, sun poisoning symptoms can range from 2 days to weeks. It is important to consult your primary healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms. Prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

You should also see a doctor if you‚re experiencing extreme symptoms such as headache, fainting, vomiting, or a very high fever.

How do I prevent sun poisoning?

To prevent sun poisoning, Dr. Patel strongly suggests remaining cognizant of how much time you are spending outside in the sunlight. It is recommended to wear broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreen needs to be re-applied every 2 hours, or after sweating/swimming. Protective clothing (such as long sleeves or long pants) and gear ( brim hat, sunglasses, etc.) can help protect areas of skin exposed to the sun as long as it protects against UVA and UVB rays.

Sources: 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sun-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20378077#:~:text=The%20most%20common%20form%20of,as%20wild%20parsnip%20or%20limes.

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-poisoning

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