Sun poisoning

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Sun poisoning is defined as a severe case of sunburn. It develops after exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun for an extended span of time.

The condition can arise in varying forms depending on the sensitivity of the individual to the sun. The difference with a mild sunburn is that this condition requires medical care to prevent any complications.

What are the indications?

When it comes to sun poisoning, the initial signs strikingly resemble a regular sunburn, usually within 6-12 hours after exposure.

Remember that sun poisoning is worse than a mild case of sunburn. Aside from the usual sunburn-like symptoms, the following are also present:

  • Peeling or blistering skin
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  • Significant pain and redness
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

What are the causes?

Sun poisoning is generally a severe burn from exposure to UV rays. This can occur after being out under the sun for prolonged periods, not applying sunscreen or not taking the necessary precautions.

Some of the risk factors for sun poisoning include the following:

  • Fair skin
  • Using antibiotics
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Using oral contraceptives
  • Applying citrus oils on the skin before sun exposure
  • Using some herbal supplements such as St. John’s wort
  • Residing in an area near the equator
  • Living in high altitudes
  • Engaging in regular snow activities during winter
  • Frequent stay in the beach
  • Applying alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) such as chemical peels

Management of sun poisoning

Sun poisoning is managed by applying cool water or cold compress. The application of lotion on the skin while damp can help the peeling skin retain as much moisture as possible. Taking in fluids can also restore the moisture that is lost from excessively dry skin.

The condition can be managed with the following:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Oral steroids
  • Steroid creams for blistering sunburns
  • Prescribed pain medications if the over-the-counter variants are not effective
  • Topical antibiotics to lower the risk for infection

Take note that sun poisoning can heal over time if promptly treated. In severe cases, it is managed in a healthcare facility.


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