Sunburns: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

What are Sunburns?

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation – UVA and UVB rays, which cause an inflammatory reaction of the skin. The clinical picture becomes visible after no less than 30 minutes.

Almost every person has experienced sunburn and no one can feel absolutely protected from skin burns.

Usually, people who are at the beach, are fishing, are agricultural workers and even those who are just taking a walk can be affected by skin burns.

Almost every person has experienced sunburn and no one can feel absolutely protected from skin burns. Usually, people who are at the beach, are fishing, are agricultural workers and even those who are just taking a walk can be affected by skin burns.

Once skin is exposed to UV radiation, it increases the production of melanin in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. Melanin is the same pigment that colors your hair, eyes, and skin. The increase in melanin may cause your skin tone to darken over the next 48 hours.

Solariums (sunbeds, sunlamps) may also cause sunburns. Chocolate skin is preferred by both women and men – on the one hand because the body looks tight and attractive, and the other – significantly slim.

Despite numerous alarming recommendations of the World Health Organization about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays people prefer to have a bronze tan and enjoy it. They usually choose sunbeds as the most accessible option to receive the results desired.

People with fair skin as well as children are at higher risk of skin damage. Solariums (sunbeds, sunlamps) may also cause sunburns. Chocolate skin is preferred by both women and men – on the one hand, because the body looks tight and attractive, and the other – significantly slim.

Despite numerous alarming recommendations of the World Health Organization about the harmful effects of the sun’s rays people prefer to have a bronze tan and enjoy it.

Severe Sunburn
Severe Sunburn Source: https:www.commons.wikimedia.org/

They usually choose sunbeds as the most accessible option to receive the results desired. According to the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, „The use patterns of occasional and frequent users were very different. Investigators estimated that typical 5-min sessions would increase the risk of melanoma by 19% for frequent users” [3]

However, repeated sun exposure and suntans cause premature aging of the skin (wrinkling, sagging, and brown sunspots).

Repeated sunburns also increase the risk of skin cancer in the damaged area. Each blistering sunburn doubles the risk of developing malignant melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer as well as photoaging [1].

Sunburn can rarely lead to fatal consequences. According to Erie County, NY Senior Services „Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet every year many people suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to properly cool themselves.

Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs. Anyone can be affected, but older adults are more prone to heat stress than younger people”. [2]

Natural sun rays, moreover harmful can be very useful – moderate sun еxposure assists in the formation of vitamin D.

Vitamin D differs from the other vitamin groups because it is produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.

Its main function is to regulate the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the bones and to assist in the intracellular processes in the body.

Frequent skin exposure to sunlight stimulates the synthesis of fat-soluble vitamin D. Older people who have darker skin or are used to apply sunscreens often suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin.

Five forms of vitamin D [4] are found – D1, D2, D3, D4, D5. Two of them are important to us – vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol derived from ergosterol) and D3 (cholecalciferol derived from 7-dehydrocholesterol).

Vitamin D deficiency [5] is associated with various diseases, such as osteoporosis, osteomalacia, muscular weakness, pain, rheumatoid arthritis, rickets, common sport injuries, acne, asthma, autoimmune disease, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, depression , renal failure, cancer of the breast, colon and ovarian cancer, colds, various bacterial and viral infections, diseases of the teeth, tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes (type 1 and 2), obesity.

Mild burns lead to skin redness. In an enhanced form it is possible to experience shock and even death [9]. When burning sensation lasts more than 2-6 hours after exposure to sunlight the skin reddens and the redness is expressed in 12-24 hours.

In severe cases, there may be blistering, dehydration (fluid loss), electrolyte imbalance (it can cause serious problems like seizures and cardiac arrest., and various infections).

There may be other general symptoms: fever, fever, nausea, vomiting, influenza-like symptoms. In more severe cases, blistering after 4-7 days may as well as peeling of the skin.

If burning symptoms are bothering you, it is recommended to visit a doctor.

The immediate appointment is necessary if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  1. Severe pain; Severe sunburn may require special burn cream and burn dressings. Very occasionally, hospital treatment may be needed.
  2. Severe burns; Symptoms of sunburn after exposure include: The skin becomes red, tender, and hot. Touching or rubbing the skin causes pain.
  3. A headache; Most often, headache is actually caused by dehydration
  4. Confusion or dizziness;
  5. Nausea or vomiting; people are overly sensitive to sun exposure usually experience these symptoms right after overexposure to the sun
  6. Deterioration of the accompanying diseases (high blood pressure, heart or kidney disease, diabetes, etc.);
  7. Fainting; According to the University of Rochester „Severe sunburns may cause a person to become dehydrated and even go into shock. This is characterized by fainting, low blood pressure, and profound weakness. Immediate medical attention is necessary”[8]

In order to relieve the discomfort:

  • Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs are also recommended. Such medications include aspirin, Advil or ibuprofen. The sooner you take a pill, the better. The sensation of pain and heat will probably last 48 hours. NSAID products started early and continued for 2 days can greatly reduce the discomfort.
  • For minor burns, cold compresses may be applied, which should be renewed every 15-20 minutes. You can also take a cold shower.
  • Use a suitable emollient (moisturizing cream or lotion) and apply on your body – chose an emollient with a light texture and no smell. Try to find products which contain additives such as urea glycerol, propylene glycol, and lactic acid to attract and hold water in the top layer of skin
  • Avoid using bath salts, oils or perfumes as they can worsen the situation and increase the sensitivity of the skin.
  • Avoid lotions that contain local anesthetics because they worsen the condition and increase the sensitivity of the skin and may make you allergic to such medications.
  • Avoid epilation and shaving until your condition improves.
  • Do not expose your skin to the sun until you recover completely.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

Signs of dehydration [10] include feeling thirsty, decrease in urination, dry mouth or lips, fatigue or feeling light-headed. If such symptoms occur, it is highly recommended to start drinking water or an electrolyte-based fluid immediately, try to stay in the shade and decrease your activity level. Dehydration can lead to more serious heat-related injuries or heat exhaustion, causing weakness, nausea, cramps and profuse sweating.

In more severe cases, consulting a physician is required. Usually, systemic corticosteroids are prescribed. A physician can also advise you to apply topical corticosteroids but this therapy is less effective. In some cases, you may need to take strong painkillers.

The presence of blisters is related to a risk of infection and systematic antibiotics can be applied topically.

Sometimes, if your level of dehydration is very high or you experience a heat shock, hospital treatment may be required. The administration of intravenous fluids is the usual method to cope with dehydration and correct electrolyte imbalances.

What is the prognosis?

Mild cases of sunburns without complications usually cause discomfort only, which practically does not pose any risk of serious health consequences. The main symptoms are itching and burning. There may be a peeling of the upper skin layer. Full recovery usually occurs within 7 days.

In the presence of other diseases such as herpes, lupus, porphyria symptoms may deteriorate.

Chronic exposure to sunlight leads to premature aging of the skin with the formation of deep wrinkles, pigmentation changes, a formation of warts, as well as malignant skin tumors. Eyesight is often Deteriorated premature cataract formation (cataract) is very likely to occur.

How to protect yourself?

The best prevention is to avoid being directly exposed to the sun. Of course, this is practically impossible and not really desirable.

Therefore, in order to avoid burns, you can wear wide hats, long-sleeved clothes, and trousers. The fabrics your clothes are made of is also very important: „Fabrics can be made from many types of fibers, including cotton, wool, and nylon.

Most fibers naturally absorb some UV radiation, and some have elastic threads that pull the fibers tightly together, reducing the spaces between the holes. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic are more protective than bleached cotton, and shiny or lustrous semi-synthetic fabrics like rayon reflect more UV than do matte ones, such as linen, which tend to absorb rather than reflect UV. Finally, consider the fabric’s weight and density — light, sheer silk gauze will provide far less UV protection than heavy cotton denim.” [7]

It is highly recommended not to forget the application of sunscreen. Some sunscreens are specially designed for the body, the face and even the sensitive areas like the lips and around the eye contour. On children’ skin ( under 6 months of age) must be applied suitable and specially designed sunscreens. Their skin must be kept out of direct sun exposure.

The protection factor is also very important as the higher the better the protection. Use one that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or above and is effective against UVA and UVB. [6] More severe sunburn can cause blistering of the skin (second-degree burns).

The main treatment for sunburn includes the use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for a few days. You can also use moisturizers three times a day, cool baths or wet compresses, and make your kids drink plenty of fluids. Keep in mind that the sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours, but if you are at the beach or near the pool, sunscreen must be reapplied right after you exit the water.

The intake of some medicines can cause sensitization to the sun. If you are taking such medicines you should avoid sun exposure. While taking such medicines your doctor will warn you about the risks. These include certain antibiotics, medicines for the treatment of psoriasis, severe acne treatment, and others. You should also avoid consumption of substances that might have an influence on your attention such as alcohol.

Brief, gradual exposure to the sun can cause pigment changes in the skin that are usually called tan. The formation of such tan has a protective effect in further exposure to the sun, but also leads to changes in the skin that cause faster aging and increase the risk of skin cancer.

These are the three most important things you should remember before exposing your skin to the sun:

  1. Do not forget to take your sunscreen with an adequate level of protection from UVA and UVB rays. It is necessary to apply a sufficient quantity of the sunscreen about 20-30 minutes before sun exposure and to reapply it every 2 hours as well as if you suffer from intense sweating or after exiting the water.
  2. Do not expose yourself to the sun between 11 am and 16 pm – this is when the sun is the strongest. Also, try to spend more time in the shade.
  3. Do not forget to take a wide-brimmed hat especially if your face skin is more pale and sensitive and if you want to avoid the formation of pigmentation and premature aging of your skin.

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