It has been a long winter without much sun. Being eager to get out in the good weather can leave us unsuspectingly susceptible to a dangerous sunburn.
While many of us might consider a sun tan to be attractive, an actual sunburn and the peeling that follows is certainly not! In addition to which, sunburn contributes to long-term skin damage.
Q. I know the signs of a sunburn, 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 could 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 they 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 may extend in a line upward along the arm or leg.
You can help 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.
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.