What Is Sun Poisoning (Symptoms,Types,Risks & Treatments) – An Ultimate Guide

What Is Sun Poisoning (Symptoms,Types,Risks & Treatments) – An Ultimate Guide

Sun Poisoning

Are you planning to visit a beach this vacation?

Good idea! But are you aware of the ill-effects of the sun?

In this discussion, I would like to share the after-effects of being exposed for durations in sun and all that I probably went through.

It is called as sunburn or most commonly as sun poisoning.

Although people use both these terms interchangeably but both these terms are actually very different skin conditions.

The main cause of both is exposure or over-exposure to Ultra Violet (UV) rays.

The white light of the sun is composed of VIBGYOR, the seven colors that make the rainbow.

Everyone is aware of it, but do you know that there is a spectrum above below and above it? These spectrums are the infrared and the ultraviolet spectrum.

Among this, the UV spectrum is most harmful to skin. The rays of sun that reach the earth has three different types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and the UVC rays.

Among these UVC rays do not reach the earth while the UVA and the UVB rays cause sun poisoning.

Once when I returned home from a beach visit, I experienced severe body ache, blisters, and peels on my exposed part of the body, I was horrified seeing it, on consulting a doctor I came to know that I had sun-poisoning.

In this article, I will throw light on it and we will discuss more about sun poisoning.

What is Sun Poisoning and what does it Look Like?

Sun poisoning is not ingesting some poison, these are types of burns that arise due to continuous exposure to ultraviolet rays that cause puffiness and inflammation. It is an extreme case of sunburn and if left un-noticed, leads to severe symptoms at later stages.

It comes in different forms and is based on the sensitivity of the skin towards the sun. `

A foundation on skin care suggests that one in three adults suffer from sun poisoning.

Blister sunburns in childhood or adolescence double the chance of developing into melanoma later in life. And to your surprise, the risk of melanoma doubles if you have more than five sunburns.

How soon sun poisoning begins depends on the following three things:

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    A person’s skin type
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    The intensity of the sun
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    And the time for which you are exposed to the sun

It can happen anytime during the year, but it is more common during the summer because UV rays are most intense at this time.

It specifically affects fair skin tone people and that too the redheads as their body produces less amount of melanin, a pigment that is capable of absorbing the UV rays turning skin to a darker complexion thus forming a protective layer and prevents it from further damage.

It can happen if you are exposed even for 15minutes in the sun.

A similar incident took place when one of my friends was out for a holiday, she saw a 20-year-old girl having an inflammatory reaction all over her face.

What really actually had happened?

The sunglasses she was wearing offered her very little defense. When she returned and went for a shower, her face starting feeling hot and started to swell, the next morning there was swelling in her eyes. Was that sun poisoning?

She pondered and searched a lot lastly consulted the doctor, he confirmed it yes that was sun poisoning.

So, you must be thinking what does sun poisoning looks like?

It generally looks like blisters, red patches, and rashes on the skin. These may be present in only a small area or whole body. Experts say that eyes are the most sensitive part of the body and most prone to ultraviolet rays and thus to sun poisoning.

Sometimes the appearance of small bumps is also related to sun poisoning.

Quick tip: so now you must be clear what the difference between sun-poisoning is and sunburn. The former is an allergic reaction, so if you are planning to go outside in the sun don’t forget to apply a good quality sunscreen. And yes do protect your eyes with good quality sunglasses.

Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

Sun Poison Symptoms

Too much sun can make your body sick and makes you feel flu-like symptoms.

But flu actually happens in summers?

You don’t need to blame the flu virus for your condition.

After a long day in the sun, if you feel such symptoms - just stand in front of the mirror and examine the parts of the body that were exposed.

What happens actually is that when the skin is exposed for longer durations in the sun, it gets damaged by the UV rays due to which the skin produces chemicals that turn on the immune system of the body and makes you feel that you have contracted flu.

Symptoms of sun poisoning last anywhere from few hours in mild cases to days in most severe cases.

Some symptoms that you might perceive on your body are:

Skin blisters

These are very bad signs and painful too. There is a risk of infection also. If you get blisters on your body, do get it checked by a doctor and get medicines prescribed for it as delay in their treatment may lead to inflammation and pain.

Itching

You may also feel itching sensation on the exposed part of the body. If you scratch, it may turn red and in severe case, blood may also start to ooze out. I did the same thing when I had sun poisoning. So, avoid scratching the skin in such cases and seek medical help.

Pain and swelling

The affected area, as stated, on turning red may get painful and can also have the appearance of eczema lesions.

Skin darkening

Some people suffer from hyperpigmentation that is the exposed area becomes dark in color.

Rashes

These look like small bumps of skin that form on the affected area. It generally looks like a beehive, more exposure makes them red in color, and with time it spreads all over the body. It is an isolated event that needs medical attention preferably from a dermatologist.

Skin loss (peeling)

Some people face peeling of skin, it usually comes out in the form of small patches, sometimes the peeling is severe and causes the appearance of blood.

Headache

Headaches are not fun, I face constant throbbing and agonizing pain and pressure whenever I return home from work in scorching heat. The same is the symptom most people face when they encounter sun poisoning.

Vomiting sensation

Headache is accompanied by vomiting sensation and nausea. For some, sun poisoning upsets their stomach leading to indigestion and reverse peristalsis.

Dehydration

Loss of water from the body. You feel thirsty as your body uses more water to repair the damaged skin. Loss of water gives rise to nausea. So, whenever you are out in the sun, drink plenty of water before and after your journey.

Dizziness

Some of us get a woozy feeling when out in the sun, it is also a sign of starting of sun poisoning.

Chills

Fever is not a good sign. Regular sun poisoning is annoying and painful but if you feel that you are experiencing cold accompanied by a fever that means your body is reacting more severely to damage caused by the sun.

Fainting

Nausea, dizziness and loss of water may cause stroke and sudden fainting. Immediate medical help is required to know the cause and treatment as well.

Quick tip: I recommend to carry a bottle of water, a solution of electrolytes etc. so that your body does not get dehydrated and you stay away from sunburns and ultimately sun poisoning.

Types of Sun Poisoning

Type of sun poisoning you are experiencing depends on the three factors described above.

The symptoms developed due to sun poisoning are generally short-lived but this doesn’t mean that they should not be treated.

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE)

PLE arises in people who are sensitive towards UV light and is a type of sun poisoning or photo-dermatosis.

It starts as an itchy rash and then continues as little red bumps or slightly raised patches of skin after exposure to sun. It tends to re-appear if it disappears on its own after the first incident.  It is generally not harmful but treatment is required to avoid embarrassment.

So what can be its symptoms? Here they are:

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    An itchy or burning rash containing erythematous papules, papulo-vesicles, plaques, and lesions similar to eczema.
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    Sometimes the lesions get filled with fluid and take form of blisters.
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    Sometimes small red bumps and raised rough patches also denote PML.

Less secondary symptoms include:

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    Flu-like symptoms.
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    Fever.
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    Skin sensitivity.
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    Body and muscle aches.
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    Dizziness and disorientation.
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    Exhaustion.
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    Visual impairment.

I have seen this type of sun poisoning in people who are residents of temperate areas and commonly in adult women like North America and Europe but men and children are also diagnosed with it. It affects all ethnicities and all skin types.

Researches claim that it is genetic. Patients can also experience PLE if they are receiving treatments for their skin during any photo-therapy for psoriasis and dermatitis.

It can easily be diagnosed by doctors with simple physical examinations or blood and skin test.

Solar urticarial

It is another form of skin poisoning. It is a light sensitivity that results in pain and discomfort. Its main cause is same exposure to UV light and sometimes to visible light.

It can also be regarded as a type of sun allergy. It can develop within minutes of exposure to the sun.

It shows the following common symptoms that I have seen in most of the SU patients:

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    Pruritus or intense itching.
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    Burning sensation, redness with the formation of wheals/hives.
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    Fainting.
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    Rashes.

Looking from the research point of view, SU is caused by an antigen-antibody reaction.

What causes SU?

When people are exposed to natural/artificial/UV light the body creates a photo-allergen that triggers an immune response that results in urticularia.

During my research on this type of sun poisoning, I came to know that SU is of two types:

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    Type I: generally an allergic reaction due to UV or visible light.
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    Type II: a reaction that is caused by coming in contact with certain dyes etc.

It can be diagnosed accurately by photo-tests, photo-patch tests, laboratory tests etc.

Increased Risk of Sun Poisoning

Increased Risk Of Sun poisoning

Till now you must be aware that sun poisoning is no fun.

After experiencing sun poisoning, you shall experience lots of discomfort. However, it is found that it is occasionally fatal and the person suffering from it recovers if treated properly.

As stated above, it’s very important to keep yourself hydrated so that your body is able to maintain the water levels.

It is also important to maintain a balance of salts and electrolytes. There is an increased risk of infection when the skin gets punctured due to continuous scratching.

There are possibilities of the appearance of red streaks. This indicates that infection has reached the bloodstream, in such cases, doctors prescribe you oral antibiotics for treatment.

Other risks associated with sun poisoning are the appearance of wrinkles and development of skin spots later in life.

One of my colleagues who mostly had to be out due to fieldwork developed the above symptoms and severe skin rashes.

At the start, the skin turned red, then peeling started although he regularly used sunscreens but some of the body that could not be covered regularly, specifically areas around the eyes started developing wrinkles. The skin got lose and remained dry most of the times.

Not only skin, it also damages the DNA of the cells and can cause permanent mutation leading to heredity cancers such as basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas.

Besides these can be treated at early stages by laser treatments and through cryotherapy.

You are at high risk of getting poisoned in the sun if:

  • You have less melanin if you have a fair skin
  • If you are having freckles or red/fair hairs
  • If you have moles
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    If you already have a skin problem
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    If you are having a medical history of skin cancer or any other skin related disease
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    If you are exposed to sunlight that gets reflected from snow, sand or water
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    If your city lies near the line of the equator
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    If you are taking pills of any kind
Caution:  you should avoid taking pills like antibiotics and birth pills without a prescription written by a doctor as these increases your sensitivity towards sunlight.
Cautionbabies below 6 months and kids below 5 years should be kept out of direct sunlight as they are in their developmental age, their skin is soft and is not able to withstand the UVA and UVB rays.

Generally, mild sunburn heels during a week but sun poisoning requires almost a week or more to get cured mostly depends on the damaged part and its severity.

Sun Poisoning Rash

Sun Poisoning Rash

If you are a patient of sun allergy, the outlook can be very good especially if you constantly use sunscreens, among the above described sun poisoning solar urticarial is only the long term problem, but in some persons, the problem eventually subsides.

But what about the rashes?

Rashes are the most prominent symptoms of sun poisoning. It is a widespread eruption of skin lesions. On exposure to sun, these can be confined to a small part of the body or they can cover the whole body.

These can be dry, moist, bumpy, smooth, cracked or even blistered. They can also be painful for some.

Some rashes caused due to sun exposure clear on their own while some are very serious and require immediate medical attention.

Development of rashes, as stated, depends on the intensity of UV rays although it varies from person to person.

A research organization from America says that most people have a minimum threshold how long they can survive and bear the harmful UV rays before the rashes erupt while there are some who cannot bear them even for a minute.

Sun Poisoning Prevention and Treatment/Diagnosis

Many people enjoy being in the sun for hours enjoying its warmth, it’s a good idea especially in the winter months, but what about summers?

Tanning is not a safe option. Any sun exposure even for a couple of minutes during summers is enough to cause tanning, premature aging and life-threatening skin cancer.

If you still insist on sunbathing, do so slowly with the use of protective creams etc.

“Prevention is better than cure”

So, I suggest adopting the following tips to prevent sun poisoning.

  • The best way to prevent sun poisoning is by limiting your time in the sun, avoid going outside between 10 am to 2 pm because this is the time when the sun is hottest.
  • If it is important to go outside apply a good quality sunscreen lotion before leaving the house particularly on the areas that are most exposed.
  • Cover your body, wear full sleeve clothes before leaving the house, this shall not only prevent you from sun poisoning but heat strokes also.
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    Drink plenty of water, this shall keep you hydrated.
Caution: There are plenty of remedies available for sun poisoning but the starting phase of the disease is irritating so to avoid any discomfort it is important that you follow the prevention tips mentioned above.

Sun-burn can be easily diagnosed by the presence of sun rashes and blisters on the skin. In severe cases, you need to seek medical help. On visiting a doctor, he shall obtain a medical history and perform a physical examination.

If the disease is severe he may order laboratory tests to determine the severity of the injury.

Sun poisoning can be treated by some home remedies if the damage is not severe, but if the condition is painful, I recommend to get treatment prescribed by a medical person.

Here is what you should do if you get sun poisoning:

Apply Aloe Vera

It has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and helps to soothe the irritated poisoned skin.

Oatmeal bath

Oatmeal has strong anti-inflammatories thus soothes and heals wounds easily. For treatment, you just have to mix a cup of salt in a bath, soak yourself for some time inside the bath for relief.

Take vitamins

Eat foods that are rich in vitamin E such as avocados, nuts, seeds that help to flux vitamin E inside the body.

You can also use vitamin E topical and place them directly on the affected area for relief. Vitamin C also gives relief, for this, you can eat citrus fruits.

Consult your doctor

He will prescribe you some medicines for treatment that helps in early recovery.

How Long Does Sun-Poisoning Lasts?

How Long Does Sun-Poisoning Lasts

The sustenance of sun poisoning depends on how soon the persons seeks remedies or medical help. I got a mild sun-burn on my hands and mild inflammation but I applied Aloe Vera as soon I spotted it and thus it got healed within two days.

Generally, the swellings mostly take 2-4 days to be cured if right medications are taken at the right time. Sun rashes also take 2-3 days to heal, but Aloe Vera gel and cool compressions get them healed early as in my case.

Other symptoms fever, nausea, and dizziness subside if sun poisoning is not severe, but if there are complications proper medical attention is necessary.

What If Your Skin Condition Get worse after you’ve Been In the Sun?

There are certain skin conditions like lupus and rosacea that are not caused due to the sun exposure but condition of persons having the disease gets worse when they are in sun.

The condition is known as photo-exacerbated dermatoses. If you are one among these people how can you protect yourself?

  • Limit your time in the sun.
  • Put on a heavy sunscreen if important to go outside.
  • Wear full sleeves clothes to avoid direct sun exposure.
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    Consult your dermatologist to discuss your concerns.

Bottom Line

I suggest from the overall discussion that prevention is your best line of defense. So why not prevent ourselves from the scorching heat every time we get out in sun in-spite of taking hard medications?

Take care!

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About the Author Linda

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