You got so relaxed that you fell asleep by the pool. You wake up hours later with your skin feeling super hot and your face all swollen. You try to get up, but you feel dizzy and nauseous. What is happening to you?
Sun poisoning is like an allergic reaction to over-exposure to UV rays and radiation from the Sun. It can result in blisters, a rash on the sunburned skin, dehydration, dizziness, headache, nausea and even fever.Every year, one in every three Americans gets sunburned. And prolonged exposure to the Sun, as well as repeated sunburns, can put you at risk of developing skin cancer. It’s the most common type of cancer. In the U.S., about 5 million people are treated for this condition each year.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Why shouldn’t you use soap on a sunburn? Which groups of people have a higher risk of sun poisoning? And could you go blind from sun exposure?
Step 1. Drink water
If you’re planning to spend your day in the sun, remember to stay hydrated. Severe sunburn causes dehydration. This means that your body will lose its ability to cool itself since there’s no water left inside to sweat out. Your body will overheat, and your temperature will elevate. Staying in sunlight could heat your skin so much that it can’t stay hydrated enough. Then you might need to be hospitalized for a few days so your body can recover its electrolyte levels.
Step 2. Don’t use soap
If you or someone near you is showing symptoms of sun poisoning, move to a cool location immediately. Apply cold, damp compresses. Do not wash the skin with soap or over-the-counter creams since those might seal the heat in the skin. If you have blisters, they can become infected by the soap or lotions. Instead, put aloe vera gel gently over the blisters and skin. If the person shows any signs of confusion or seems disoriented, get medical help fast.
Step 3. Choose the Right Sunglasses
In 2018, a British woman named Holly was on vacation in Tenerife, Spain. After a day in the sun she started to feel her face swelling. She took a shower, but it only made it worse. A few days later, when she woke up, she couldn’t open her eyes. Holly thought she was in danger of going blind. It took a week for the swelling to go down. After that, she became an advocate for using sunscreen at all times and UV-protective sunglasses. Since the sunglasses that she had worn were not strong enough to protect her eyes for a day in the sun.
Step 4. Limit sun exposure
Sun poisoning or severe sunburn is most likely to affect people with pale skin, pale eyes and blond or red hair. Babies and young children with these characteristics are especially at risk. People with lighter complexions also have a higher risk for skin cancer. But regardless of your complexion, try to limit your sun exposure, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the Sun’s rays are the most intense.
Step 5. Take it seriously
After being in sunlight, your skin could become a little pink. That’s a normal sunburn. But if your skin starts looking red, as dark as a strawberry, feels hot to the touch or you start to feel chills even if it’s a hot summer day, don’t laugh it off. Those are signs of sun poisoning or severe sunburn. Ignoring it can cause serious complications like losing consciousness, at which point someone should dial 911.
You survived sun poisoning, so now you can continue to enjoy your summer. What about enjoying a waterslide? It sure sounds like fun, but what if you fall off? Did you know there’s a water slide that’s so dangerous that it took someone’s head off?
- “First aid advice for sunburn and heat illness” – Canada, H. (2018). Canada.ca.
- “How to Get Rid of Sunburn (Sun Poisoning), Relief, Symptoms & Blisters“. (2021).
- “Skin Cancer: Quick Facts from the Surgeon General“. (2014).
- “True or False: Dark-skinned People Don’t Need Sunscreen” | Winchester Hospital. (2021).
- “A Severe Sunburn Should Be Taken Seriously — Here Are Symptoms And What To Do“. 2020. Norton Healthcare.