Preventing sunburn easier, less painful than treating it

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Oswald Lightsey Mikell

The heat of summer is upon us ... and with that comes the increased risk of sunburn.

Those unplanned, extended outings when you didn't use adequate protection, or the false confidence of a cloudy day, can leave you unsuspectingly susceptible to a dangerous sunburn.

While many people might consider a suntan to be attractive, an actual sunburn and the peeling that follows is certainly not! In addition, sunburn contributes to long-term skin damage.

Q. I know the signs of a sun burn, redness and a burning feeling, but what are the more severe symptoms?

A. You might experience pain, swelling and occasional blistering. Because exposure often affects a large area of your skin, sunburn can also cause headache, fever and fatigue.

Q. What can I do to relieve the symptoms?

A. Take a cool bath or shower. Adding 1/2 cup of cornstarch, oatmeal or baking soda to your bath water can soothe the burn. Also, applying aloe vera lotion several times a day will help provide some relief.

If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen or Tylenol. Do not give children or teenagers aspirin. It may cause Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal disease.

Q. How do I know if need to see a doctor?

A. If blistering covers a large portion of your body, if you're running a high fever, have extreme pain, confusion, nausea, chills, or if you don't respond to home care within a few days, call a physician.

Q. How long does sunburn last?

A. Within a few days, your body will start to heal itself by "peeling" the top layer of damaged skin. Depending on the severity, it might take several days or more for the sunburn to heal.

Q. What should I do if I begin to blister?

A. First of all, leave blisters intact to speed healing and avoid infection. If the blisters burst on their own, apply an antibacterial ointment on the open areas. If the blisters are severe, not healing properly, or if you experience immediate complications, such as rash, itching or fever, see a doctor.

Q. How do I know if I have an infection?

A. You might experience increasing pain, tenderness and swelling, yellow drainage (pus) from an open blister, or red streaks, leading away from the open blister, which might extend in a line upward along the arm or leg.

You can help to prevent sunburn and consequently skin damage by always protecting your skin before you go outdoors - even if you don't plan to be in the direct sunlight.

Always apply sunscreen and make sure you apply correctly and frequently. If you already have sun damage, there are options for repair and restoration. Call a dermatologist and schedule a consult appointment.

Dr. Oswald Lightsey Mikell, certified by the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, is the owner of Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry.

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