Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

Sunburn vs. Sun Poisoning: Symptoms, Causes and How to Prevent

Overexposure to the sun can result in both sunburn and sun poisoning. While sunburn is a common condition that almost everyone has experienced, sun poisoning is a more severe and potentially dangerous condition. Sun poisoning, on the other hand, is a more serious condition that may call for medical attention, whereas sunburn is a more frequent condition that is usually treatable at home. To avoid both conditions, limit your exposure to the sun, wear protective clothing, and apply sunscreen with a high SPF.

Understanding sun protection

Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

UV rays can harm everyone differently and affect every exposed part of the body, including your eyes. Inflammation occurs when the skin is exposed to more UV rays than it can handle. While sunburn symptoms are unpleasant, they are usually mild and treatable at home. Sun poisoning does not necessarily imply that you were "poisoned" by the sun's UV rays. It indicates that you have a severe sunburn.

Following UV exposure from the sun or a tanning bed, sunburn symptoms start to appear minutes to hours later. Skin that has been sunburned frequently displays redness, itchiness, sensitivity, pain, and warmth.

What are the risks of sun exposure?

Sun exposure is a common part of many people's daily lives, and while the sun can be beneficial in some ways, excessive exposure to its UV rays can pose serious health risks. Here are some of the dangers of sun exposure:

  1. Skin damage: Sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging. The immune system can be weakened and the body's capacity to fight infections is hampered by UV rays.

  2. Eye damage: Prolonged sun exposure increases the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye conditions while also harming the eyes.

  3. Heat exhaustion: Excessive sun exposure can result in heat exhaustion, which is characterized by symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.

  4. Dehydration: Being in the sun can result in dehydration, which can cause a number of health issues, such as fatigue, headaches, and cramps in the muscles.

  5. Sun sensitivity: Some people are more sensitive to the sun than others, and as a result, they may break out in a rash or experience hives when in the sun.

What is sunburn? 

Sunburn is a type of skin damage brought on by excessive exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation can cause the skin to become sore, swollen, and red, and in severe cases, blisters can form. Sunburn happens when UV radiation damages the skin's cells by penetrating the epidermis. The body sends blood to the damaged area when cells are damaged in order to repair the damage, which results in inflammation and redness. Sunburn signs and symptoms can include red or inflamed skin, warmth and tenderness to the touch, pain and itching, swelling, blisters, headache, fever, and nausea. They usually appear a few hours after sun exposure.

Home remedies are frequently used to treat sunburns, including applying aloe vera or cool compresses to the affected area, staying hydrated with lots of fluids, and taking over-the-counter painkillers to ease discomfort and inflammation. More severe sunburns may need medical attention, including prescription painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. It's crucial to limit your time spent in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear protective clothing, and use sunscreen with a high SPF to avoid getting sunburned.

 What is sun poisoning? 

Sun poisoning is a severe form of sunburn brought on by prolonged exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It is also known as photodermatitis or sun allergy, and it can cause symptoms other than the typical redness and discomfort associated with a sunburn. When the skin is exposed to UV radiation for an extended period of time, often without adequate protection, sun poisoning can occur. People with fair skin, light-coloured hair, and blue or green eyes are more vulnerable to sun poisoning, as are those who take medications that increase sensitivity to sunlight, such as antibiotics or birth control pills.

Symptoms of sunburn and sun poisoning

Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

Sunburn and sun poisoning symptoms can be similar, but sun poisoning is more severe and can cause additional symptoms in addition to sunburn. Here are some examples of each:

Symptoms of sunburn

  • Redness and tenderness of the skin

  • Warmth to the touch

  • Pain or itching

  • Swelling or blisters in severe cases

  • Headache and fever (in more severe cases)

Symptoms of sun poisoning

  • Severe redness and blistering of the skin

  • Pain and tenderness

  • Itching or burning sensation

  • Swelling of the affected area

  • Headache, fever, and nausea

  • Dizziness or light-headedness

  • Dehydration and fatigue

It is important to note that both sunburn and sun poisoning can raise your risk of developing skin cancer, particularly if you have had previous sunburns or sun poisoning. If you notice any unusual changes in your skin, such as new moles or patches that itch or bleed, you should see a doctor to rule out skin cancer or other skin conditions.

Skin inflammation and blistering 

Sunburn and sun poisoning both cause skin inflammation and blistering. When UV radiation damages the skin's inner cells by penetrating the epidermis, sunburn results in skin inflammation. In an effort to repair the damage, the body responds by sending blood to the area, which results in swelling and redness. In more severe cases of sunburn, blistering is a sign that the skin is damaged and trying to heal itself.

Sun poisoning frequently manifests as skin swelling and blistering, but these symptoms are usually more severe than those of sunburn. Sun poisoning can cause more intense inflammatory reactions such as skin redness, tenderness, and blistering. The blisters could hurt and could become infected if they fill with fluid or pus.

Keep the affected area clean and dry and limit further sun exposure until the skin has healed if you want to treat skin inflammation and blistering caused by sunburn or sun poisoning. The affected area can be treated with cool compresses, you can take over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lessen discomfort and inflammation, and you can apply topical creams or ointments like aloe vera or hydrocortisone to soothe the skin.

Nausea, fever, and dehydration

Nausea, fever, and dehydration are more severe symptoms that can occur with sun poisoning. These symptoms can be a sign of a more serious condition that needs medical attention and show that the body is reacting more strongly to UV radiation from the sun. The body's inflammatory response to sunburn or sun poisoning can result in nausea and vomiting, which can also be signs of dehydration. Dehydration happens when the body loses more fluid than it takes in, and it can cause symptoms such as thirst, dry mouth, weakness, and dizziness. Another typical symptom of sun poisoning is fever, which can mean that the body is mounting an immune defence against UV radiation. A fever can cause chills, muscle aches, and fatigue, as well as contribute to dehydration.

To prevent nausea, fever, and dehydration from sun poisoning, it is important to take steps to limit your sun exposure, wear protective clothing, and use sunscreen with a high SPF. If you experience these symptoms after prolonged sun exposure, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol or caffeine, which can increase dehydration.

Skin peeling and photodermatitis 

Skin peeling and photodermatitis are two more serious symptoms of sunburn and sun poisoning. Skin peeling happens when sunburn or sun poisoning causes the epidermis, the top layer of skin, to start shedding. This typically happens a few days after the initial exposure to the sun and is accompanied by itchiness, dryness, and flaking of the skin. The skin beneath the peeling layer may be red and tender, but picking at or peeling the skin can increase the risk of infection.

Photodermatitis, also known as "sun allergy," is a skin condition that causes an allergic reaction to sunlight. This can result in a rash, redness, and itching, as well as blisters and skin peeling. Photodermatitis can be brought on by a variety of factors, including prescription medications, underlying medical conditions, and exposure to chemicals or substances. Keep the affected area clean and dry and avoid additional sun exposure until the skin has healed if you want to treat skin peeling brought on by sunburn or sun poisoning. To soothe the skin and prevent dryness and itching, apply moisturizing creams or lotions. It is also critical to drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate the body and aid in the healing process.

How to prevent sunburn and sun poisoning

Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

To avoid the signs of UV radiation overexposure and any potential complications, it is essential to prevent sunburn and sun poisoning. Here are some recommendations for avoiding sunburn and sun poisoning:

  1. Limit your time in the sun: Avoid being in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are at their strongest. If you must go outside during these hours, try to stay as much as possible in the shade.

  2. Wear protective clothing: Cover your arms, legs, and neck with light, loose-fitting clothing. Light colors and sheer fabrics provide less protection than dark hues and tightly woven materials. To protect your face and eyes, you can also put on a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses.

  3. Use sunscreen: Cover all exposed skin, including your face, ears, and the backs of your hands, with sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. In case you are swimming or perspiring, reapply every two hours or more frequently. Make sure to cover all exposed skin with enough sunscreen.

  4. Keep hydrated: Consume plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, which can increase your risk of sunburn and sun poisoning. The best choice is water, but you can also rehydrate your body with other liquids like sports drinks or coconut water. 

  5. Use medication with caution: Some medications may increase your sensitivity to the sun's rays. If you take any prescription or over-the-counter medications, check with your doctor or chemist to see if they can increase your risk of sunburn or sun poisoning.

  6. Be aware of your skin type: Sunburn and sun poisoning are more common in people with fair skin, freckles, and light-colored eyes than in those with darker skin tones. Take extra precautions to protect your skin from the sun if you have a fair complexion.

Using sunscreen and SPF protection 

Sunscreen and SPF protection are critical for avoiding sunburn and sun poisoning. Here are some pointers on how to properly apply sunscreen and SPF protection:

  1. Pick the best sunscreen: Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers UVA and UVB protection. Pick a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or more, such as an SPF 50 sunscreen recommended by your dermatologist

  2. How to properly apply sunscreen: Do this at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside on any exposed skin. Make sure to cover all exposed areas with enough sunscreen, and don't forget to cover your ears, neck, and any other areas that might be in the sun's path.

  3. Reapply sunscreen frequently: If you are swimming or perspiring, you should reapply sunscreen more frequently than every two hours. Reapply sunscreen immediately after toweling off or exiting the water.

  4. Apply enough sunscreen: The majority of people do not. To protect all of your body's exposed areas, use 1 ounce (the equivalent of a shot glass) of sunscreen.

  5. Use SPF protection: Cover your arms, legs, and neck with protective clothing in addition to using sunscreen. You should also wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck from the sun. Sunglasses are an additional option for eye protection.

  6. Be cautious with sunscreen sprays: Sunscreen sprays are more convenient than lotions, but they are less effective. Make sure to saturate all exposed skin with the spray and avoid inhaling it.

  7. Check expiration dates: Sunscreen loses effectiveness over time, so check the expiration date before using it. If the sunscreen has expired, discard it and replace it.

Staying hydrated and avoiding sun exposure 

Both drinking plenty of water and avoiding the sun are crucial for maintaining good health and avoiding a number of health issues. More information on why each is important and how to incorporate them into your daily routine can be found here:

  • Staying hydrated: Water is required for your body to function properly. It aids in the regulation of your body's temperature, the transport of nutrients and oxygen to your cells, the lubrication of your joints, and the removal of waste products. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, and constipation if you don't drink enough water. Chronic dehydration can also contribute to kidney stone formation and urinary tract infections.

  • Avoiding sun exposure: Even though excessive sun exposure can be harmful, it also has many positive effects, including the production of vitamin D. The sun's UV rays can cause skin damage, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer. It can also cause eye damage, like cataracts. Wear protective clothing, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, and use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect yourself from the sun. You should also avoid being outside during peak hours, which are typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be outside during these hours, seek shade whenever possible.

Natural Remedies for Sunburn and Sun Poisoning 

Sunburn and sun poisoning can be excruciatingly painful, but there are several natural remedies that can help soothe your skin and promote healing. Here are a few examples:

  1. Aloe vera: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties naturally, which can help soothe sunburned skin. For best results, directly apply fresh aloe vera gel to the affected area.

  2. Cool compresses: Several times per day, apply a cool, damp compress to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Pain and inflammation may be lessened as a result.

  3. Oatmeal bath: Taking a warm oatmeal bath can help reduce sunburn-related itching and swelling. Then, soak for 20 to 30 minutes in a warm bath with a cup of plain oatmeal.

  4. Vinegar of the apple variety: Vinegar of the apple variety has anti-inflammatory properties and can help lessen pain and redness. Apply the solution to the afflicted area with a cotton ball after combining equal parts water and apple cider vinegar.

  5. Coconut oil: As a natural moisturizer, coconut oil can help stop peeling. Several times per day, apply a thin layer of coconut oil to the affected area.

  6. Green tea: Antioxidants in green tea can help lower inflammation and encourage healing. Make a cup of green tea, then let it cool. Using a cotton ball, dab the affected area with the tea.

How to treat sunburn and sun poisoning

Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

Sunburn and mild sun poisoning are typically treatable at home with over-the-counter medications or natural remedies.  In some cases, however, seeking medical attention is required. Here are some symptoms of sunburn or sun poisoning that should prompt you to seek medical attention:

  1. Blistering or severe pain: If you have a sunburn or sun poisoning, this could be a sign of a more serious burn. Seek medical attention if your burn has a sizable surface area, is deep, or is coupled with a fever, chills, or lightheadedness.  

  2. Spreading swelling or redness: If your sunburn or sun poisoning is causing swelling or redness that is spreading or getting worse, it could be an infection. Get medical attention if you notice pus, oozing, or escalating pain.

  3. Dehydration: Dehydration can be dangerous and is a possible side effect of sunburn and sun poisoning. If you experience symptoms like dry mouth, thirst, dizziness, or fatigue, drink plenty of fluids, and if your symptoms worsen, take an online dermatologist consultation.

  4. Sunstroke: Sunstroke is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when your body overheats as a result of prolonged sun exposure. Headache, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and loss of consciousness are some of the symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, seek emergency medical attention.

Signs of heat exhaustion and sun stroke 

When your body overheats as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and humidity, you could experience serious heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke.  The symptoms and warning signs for each are as follows:

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  1. Excessive sweating

  2. Fatigue or weakness

  3. Dizziness or lightheadedness

  4. Nausea or vomiting

  5. Headache

  6. Muscle cramps or weakness

  7. Cool, clammy skin

  8. Rapid heartbeat

  9. Fainting

Signs and symptoms of heatstroke:

  1. High body temperature (above 103°F)

  2. Rapid heartbeat and breathing

  3. Red, hot, dry skin

  4. Nausea or vomiting

  5. Headache

  6. Dizziness or confusion

  7. Seizures

  8. Loss of consciousness

Staying hydrated, staying in shaded or air-conditioned areas during peak sun hours, and wearing loose, light-colored clothing that covers your skin are all important steps to prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Early detection of skin cancer 

The key to effectively treating skin cancer is early detection. When examining your skin for skin cancer symptoms, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  1. Asymmetry: When the size, shape, or color of one half of a mole or lesion differs from that of the other.

  2. Border: The mole's or lesion's edges are uneven, scalloped, or poorly defined.

  3. Color: The mole or lesion may have patches of white, red, or blue, or it may have shades of brown, black, or other colors.

  4. Diameter: The mole or lesion is larger than 6mm (roughly the size of a pencil eraser).

  5. Evolution: The mole or lesion is growing, changing, or being distinct from other moles or lesions on your body.

In addition to these symptoms, you should check your skin for any new or changing spots, sores, or growths. Check every part of your body, including your scalp, the soles of your feet, and the spaces between your fingers and toes. If you notice any of these symptoms or have concerns about a spot on your skin, you should consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider. A skin biopsy may be performed to test for skin cancer.

Treatment options for severe sunburn and sun poisoning 

The available treatments for severe sunburn and sun poisoning depend on how severe the burn is and the symptoms that are present. A healthcare provider may recommend the following treatment options:

  1. Cool compresses: To help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation, apply cool, damp compresses to the affected area. Ice shouldn't be applied directly to the skin as this can harm the skin even more.

  2. Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with pain relief and inflammation reduction.

  3. Topical creams: To soothe the skin and lessen inflammation, you can topically apply hydrocortisone cream or aloe vera gel.

  4. Prescription drugs: To manage symptoms or prevent infection in severe cases of sunburn or sun poisoning, prescription-strength painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, or antibiotics may be required.

  5. IV fluids: To replenish fluids and restore balance in cases of extreme dehydration or electrolyte imbalances, IV fluids may be required. 

  6. Hospitalization: For treatment and monitoring, hospitalization may be required in rare instances of severe sunburn or sun poisoning.

Heal and prevent sun damage!

Sunburn Vs. Sun Poisoning: An Overview of the Differences and Symptoms

Sun protection and the prevention of sunburn and sun poisoning are critical for maintaining healthy skin and lowering the risk of skin cancer. If you do get sunburned or sun poisoned, it's critical to manage your symptoms and seek medical attention from an online dermatology platform if necessary. Check your skin frequently for changes or abnormalities as early detection of skin cancer is essential for effective treatment. When spending time outside, remember to stay hydrated, wear protective clothing, and apply sunscreen to reduce your risk of sun damage.

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