Sunburn involves skin damage due to the ultraviolet (UV) rays. This typically causes the skin to turn sore, reddened, warm, tender and occasionally itchy for about a week. The skin usually flakes and peels after a few days and fully heals within 7 days.
Even though sunburn is often transitory and minor, it is vital to avoid it from occurring since it increases the chances of developing serious health issues such as skin cancer later in life. Many underestimate the exposure to the sun while outdoors since the redness does not usually develop for several hours while the breeze and getting wet can cool the skin, thus one is not aware that he/she is getting burnt. Always remember that there is always the risk for sunburn if staying outdoors under the strong sun.
What to do if I have sunburn?
If sunburn is suspected, it is vital to get out of the sun as soon as possible by moving indoors or to a shaded area. Mild sunburn can be managed at home but there are cases where it is best to seek medical care.
- Cool the skin by sponging it using cold water or by taking a cold bath or shower. Applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel on the affected area also helps.
- Drink plenty of fluids to cool down the body and prevent dehydration.
- Apply a suitable emollient or petroleum jelly to keep the skin moist and cool.
- Provide pain medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any pain. Aspirin should not be given to children below 16 years old.
It is vital to avoid sunlight including the windows by covering the affected skin until it fully heals.
When to seek medical care
A doctor should be consulted if the individual feels unwell or has any concerns about the sunburn, especially if he/she sustained a large burn or have any of these severe symptoms:
- Swelling or blistering of the skin
- Elevated body temperature of 38 degrees C or 37.5 degrees C or higher among children below 5 years old
- Headaches, dizziness and feeling sick
The doctor might recommend hydrocortisone cream to be used for few days to minimize the soreness of the skin. Severe cases of sunburn might require a specialized burn cream and burn dressings from a doctor. Occasionally, treatment in a hospital is required.
Who are at risk for sunburn?
Those who are exposed to UV light are at risk for being sunburned, yet some individuals are more prone to others. The following factors can put an individual at higher risk for getting sunburned.
- Pale, white or light brown complexion
- Red or fair hair and freckles
- Exposure to intense sun occasionally such as during vacations
- Warm countries where the sun is intense
It is vital to be well aware that snow, water or ice can reflect the rays of the sun onto the skin and the sun is quite intense at high altitudes. Infants and young children are more sensitive to the effects of UV rays and proper care must be taken to protect the skin.