Sunburn occurs when exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light such as sunlamps or tanning beds exceeds the ability of the body’s protective pigment, melanin, to protect the skin. Typical symptoms include redness, swelling, pain, blisters, and sometimes fever, chills, and weakness. Several days after the burn, your skin may itch and peel.
You can get sunburned on a cloudy or overcast day as well as a clear, sunny day. People with fair skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair are especially vulnerable to sunburn. Taking certain medications such as sulfa drugs, tetracycline, and some diuretics also increases the risk.
Not many cases of sunburn require medical attention, but there are a number of ways you can relieve the symptoms for you or your children:
- Avoid repeated exposure to the sun until the burn heals.
- Take a cool bath or use cool compresses on the sunburned area.
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for discomfort.
- Apply a topical moisturizer, aloe gel, hydrocortisone cream, or a topical pain reliever to the sunburned area. Avoid commercial products that contain benzocaine or Benadryl because of the possibility of skin irritation or allergy.
- To avoid infection, do not break blisters.
Call your physician if the sunburn causes severe pain or widespread blistering, or if symptoms of heat stress occur, such as fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, or feeling faint.
To prevent sunburn, follow the ABC’s of sunburn prevention, as recommended by theAmericanAcademyof Dermatology:
- Avoid sun exposure during the peak intensity hours of10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The risk of burning increases at higher altitudes.
- Block the sun’s rays using a SPF 15 or higher sunscreen. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Do not use sunscreen on infants under 6 months of age.
- Cover up with protective clothing, such as long sleeve shirts and hats, with a tight weave that keeps out as much sunlight as possible. Keep babies under 6 months of age away from direct sunlight. Move your baby to the shade or under a tree, an umbrella, or a stroller canopy.