How To Cure Sun Poisoning

The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: “Photosensitivity.”

Sun Poisoning

Sun poisoning doesn’t really mean you’ve been poisoned. It is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn. This is usually a burn from ultraviolet (UV) radiation that inflames your skin.

Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

Within just 15 minutes of being in the sun, you can be sunburned. But you might not know it right away. The redness and discomfort might not show up for a few hours.

You can become severely sunburned if you stay in the sun a long time and don’t wear protection. You are more likely to sunburn if you have light skin and fair hair.

Severe sunburn or sun poisoning can cause symptoms such as the following:

  • Skin redness and blistering
  • Pain and tingling
  • Swelling
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration

Treating Sun Poisoning

For severe sunburn, these simple remedies usually do the trick:

  • Get out of the sun.
  • Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath or apply cool compresses.
  • Drink extra fluids for a few days.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Use aloe gel or a moisturizer.
  • Completely cover sunburned areas when going outside.

Seek immediate medical care for these symptoms:

  • A sunburn that forms blisters, covers a large area, or is very painful
  • Facial swelling
  • Fever and chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache, confusion, or faintness
  • Signs of dehydration

Preventing Sun Poisoning

Follow the basics of sun safety:

  • Wear a sunscreen that has at least 8% zinc oxide and a SPF of at least 30 and says “broad-spectrum” on the label, which means that it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Put it on all over about 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply at least every 2 hours and after you’ve been sweating or in the water.
  • Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and remember that water, snow, and sand can intensify the sun’s damaging rays.
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.

Check on your medications. Ask your doctor if anything you take might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. For example, some acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs, and birth control pills make skin more sensitive. So can some antibacterial medications and fragrances that go on your skin. In fact, there’s a host of products that can raise your sensitivity to sunlight.

Other Types of Sun Poisoning

Sun poisoning may also refer to two types of reactions to sunlight:

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). PMLE is a reaction that does not appear to be linked to drugs or diseases. It happens in people who are at risk and who are exposed to intense sunlight that they’re not used to. For example, people living in northern climates could experience this if taking a winter vacation in a tropical climate.

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Symptoms are a severe skin rash, usually appearing several hours after going out in the sun. The rash may be itchy and include:

  • Small bumps over the sun-exposed areas of the body
  • Dense clumps of bumps
  • Hives, usually on the arms, lower legs, and chest

An inherited form of PMLE occurs in Native Americans. It can last from spring until fall. Symptoms at first include redness, burning, and itching, which usually last 2 or 3 days but can persist for weeks. Other symptoms may begin within a few hours of sun exposure but go away in a few hours. They include:

Treatment for PMLE depends on its severity. Other than staying out of the sun and protecting yourself when you are in the sun, you may not need treatment. The rash can clear by itself within 7 to 10 days.

Solar urticaria. Symptoms may develop within minutes of exposure to sun. If large areas of skin are involved, symptoms may include:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Raised areas on the skin (hives or wheals)
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Although the rash usually goes away within hours, you may experience the reaction off and on throughout the years. Antihistamines can treat some cases, but see your doctor for advice.

Other treatment or prevention for PMLE or solar urticaria may include:

  • Steroids that go on your skin
  • Sunscreen that says “broad-spectrum” on the label, which means it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB radiation
  • Phototherapy with psoralen UV light (PUVA) to desensitize skin to UV light

Show Sources

Nemours Foundation: “Sunburn.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “The Sun and Your Skin.”

The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: “Photosensitivity.”

eMedicine: “Polymorphous Light Eruption.”

Net Wellness: “Treatment for Sun Poison.”

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Polymorphous Light Eruption.”

What You Should Know About Sun Poisoning Symptoms

It’s that familiar tenderness you associate with the average sunburn — the red shoulder or thigh that momentarily turns white when you press a finger against it.

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But then, things take a turn for the worse after a few hours. You develop a blistering rash that itches and burns like mad. You start getting the chills and/or you get extremely thirsty. You might even experience nausea. These are a few possible symptoms of what we know as sun poisoning.

Family medicine doctor Matthew Goldman, MD, explains what sun poisoning is, how long it can last and ways you can prevent it from happening.

Symptoms of sun poisoning

Even though sun poisoning isn’t a formal medical term, we’ve all heard of it. It often mimics a flu bug or allergic reaction. As a result, you can find yourself shivering in bed with a headache, fever and chills — all wrapped up with the redness, pain and sensitivity of a sun-scorched skin patch.

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Sun poisoning can cause a range of symptoms (depending on the severity). These may include:

  • Severe rash.
  • Blistering or peeling skin.
  • Nausea.
  • Dehydration.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fainting.

Sometimes, it can also cause blisters to form on your lips.

Can sun poisoning make you sick?

The answer is a complicated one. When you have sun poisoning, you’re not actually poisoned by UV (ultraviolet) rays. What you’re actually experiencing is intense pain and other reactions from the damage dealt to your skin. If you’re experiencing sickness, nausea, dizzying or general illness, chances are, this is as a result of being severely dehydrated.

It’s important that if you experience any of these symptoms, you drink plenty of water and electrolytes to keep yourself hydrated and clear-minded. It’s also important to avoid touching the affected areas whenever possible.

How long does it take for sun poisoning to go away?

Sun poisoning can last weeks depending on the severity of the burn. If you scratch or pick at the burn, you run the risk of getting an infection. If you notice any bleeding or oozing, you should see your doctor immediately because it could be a sign of infection.

Treatment for sun poisoning can include:

  • Cold baths or cold compresses.
  • Steroid creams.
  • Oral steroids.
  • Prescription pain medications.
  • Topical antibiotics.
  • IV fluids for dehydration.

Facts about sun poisoning

Sun poisoning isn’t well understood. Here are some important things to know:

1. Causes aren’t clearly understood

There are a lot of possible causes for sun poisoning and in some cases, it has no known cause. Sun poisoning is more likely to occur in some people than others, especially if you have fair skin, have a family history of skin cancer or live near the equator. Still, sun poisoning does not affect everyone.

2. Most people don’t realize what can put you at risk

Certain pre-existing conditions, medications and/or chemical exposure may predispose someone to sun poisoning. This can include lupus, certain antibiotics, topical medications or contact with certain plants.

3. Treatment varies depending on your specific symptoms

Sun poisoning affects different people differently, so doctors tend to focus treatment on a person’s specific symptoms.

4. Suspected cases warrant a doctor’s visit

If you have symptoms of sun poisoning, it’s important to see your medical provider. After examining you, they can determine the severity of the problem, as well as the best treatment.

How to prevent sun poisoning

To prevent sun poisoning, you want to take the same precautions that help you avoid sunburn. Here are some important tips to follow the next time you go outside:

  • Use sunscreen. Use broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply this 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply at least every two hours.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves, sunglasses, gloves and broad-brim hats. Tightly woven fabrics, thick and/or dark-colored clothing are also useful for protection.
  • Avoid peak hours in the summer months. This means staying out of the sun for extended periods of time between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Keep infants younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Be aware of medication side effects.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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