Sunburn

Overview

Sunburn is reddened, painful skin caused by sun exposure. Although sunburn usually fades away after a few days, the underlying damage it causes to the skin is permanent. Sunburn increases the likelihood of skin cancer and accelerates skin aging. While many people believe that a tan is healthy, it is actually damaged skin, just like sunburn. Sunburn can be prevented by wearing sunscreen when outside and avoiding sun exposure when UV rays are at their strongest during the day. The pain of sunburn can be relieved with home treatments and over-the-counter products, although very severe cases may require more extensive care.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Sunburn causes red or pink sin that is warm and usually painful, which appears within a few hours or days of sun exposure. Sunburn can occur on any part of the body, including earlobes, eyelids, and lips. The sunburned skin may also be slightly inflamed (swollen) and covered in small blisters. Severe cases of sunburn can cause headache, fever, and fatigue (sun poisoning). As the sunburn fades, the skin heals itself by peeling the damaged layer of skin off. Very severe cases of sunburn can cause first and second degree burns that require medical care, and they may cause infection that results in significant pain, swelling, and pus from blisters. The damage caused by sunburns is permanent and can lead to the development of skin cancer, wrinkles, dry skin, red veins, freckles, and spots on the skin. The eyes can also be sunburned, damaging the lens in the eyeball that helps it to focus on objects.

Minor cases of sunburn do not usually require a visit to the doctor. However, if sunburn is severe, a doctor can diagnose it based on a physical exam and symptoms. Some people are considered sensitive to sunlight (photosensitive); phototesting can diagnose photosensitivity.

Causes

Sunburn is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or other sources. When the amount of UV light exceeds the body’s ability to protect the skin (with the pigment melanin), the result is damaged, burned skin. People vary in the degrees to which they sunburn; darker-skinned people may take more sun exposure than lighter-skinned people to develop sunburn. The amount of melanin that someone produces is genetic, and some people do not produce enough to protect well against UV rays. There is no such thing as a healthy tan – tanning is also the result of sun damage.

People who are more likely to sunburn easily include infants and children, people with light skin, and people taking certain medications, such as doxycycline. The chances of sunburn are highest between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest. People who are swimming or around water, sand, or snow can experience burns more quickly due to the reflective nature of these surfaces. Sunburn can happen even when it’s cloudy outside. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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