Is there a difference between sun poisoning and sunburn? Yes, there is. Both can actually produce red skin and blistering, pain and tingling, even fever and chills.
The term “sun poisoning” is often used to describe severe sunburns. Sun poisoning can happen if you’ve been exposed to the sun for as little as 15 minutes without protective sun lotion.
How can you spot sun poisoning?
Sun poisoning causes symptoms that increase over time. Like any sunburn, it might not show up right away.
But if you find you have a severe sunburn, aside from the redness, pain, tingling and blistering, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Feeling dizzy and lethargic
- Mild to severe headache
- Swelling of the face
- Mild to severe fever followed with chills
- Stomach upset, nausea and vomiting
- Dehydration, which can be gauged by squeezing the skin on the top of the hand. If it doesn’t pop back to normal, you are dehydrated.
- Swelling of arms, legs, ankles and affected burned areas
Make sure you seek immediate medical attention if you experience any one of these symptoms.
There are other reactions that can point to sun poisoning.
Although the most common, sunburns aren’t the only type of sun poisoning. In some people, the condition is called Polymorphous light eruption or (PLE). This is essentially an allergic reaction to UV rays. A sunburn is not always present with this reaction. Sometimes a person may harbor an allergen that is triggered with sun exposure.
Symptoms of PMLE include:
- A rash of small bumps spread over the exposed parts of the body; these bumps can also be dense and clumpy
- Hives all over the body, especially the extremities
You are more susceptible to sunburns and sun poisoning if you have:
- Fair or light-colored skin and hair
- Prescription or over-the-counter medications that may increase sensitivity to the sun, including ibuprofen, tetracycline, and other antibiotics
How Do I Prevent Sun Poisoning?
There are several ways to prevent severe sunburns and sun poisoning.
Following the basic preventative measures for sunburn is a good start, including:
- Wearing sunscreen with at least 30 broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection
- Wearing protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
- Taking extra care at high noon, as that is the time of day the sun is directly overhead
- Being aware of any medications that may affect your sensitivity to the sun
If you do burn, take care. Make sure you drink extra water for at least three days after overexposure and use aloe vera gel for relief. Aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and headaches. A cold compress helps reduce burning and tingling. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to check in with a doctor or a friend that has completed a master’s degree in nursing to get advice on whether you should seek further medical attention.