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Skin Care and Diseases

Sun poison or not

08/15/2006

Question:

hi, i was out in the sun today, swimming for only 2 hours. my skin is sensitive and i am looking at my arms now and they seem burnt. my lower arms are fine, but above my elbows, over my shoulders, and on my back, its very painful, very red, and very hot too, of course. i was stupid though and didn`t put on any sun screen on anything. is it a possibility that i may be/get sun poison? and would it increase the chances highly if i were to go outside for a short period of time? if you can help me, it would be greatly appreciated. thanks!

Answer:

It sounds like you have a severe sunburn. Usually time, 48-96 hours, will resolve all the symptoms.  Your sensitivity to the sun, what time of day you were out in the sun and how close to the equator you are all will determine how quickly you will develop a sunburn.  If you have no other health issues, over the counter anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil or Tylenol will help relieve some of the pain.  Cool compresses or baths will take away some of the heat.  It you have blisters try not to pop them to prevent possible infection.   In the future, sunblock, applied at least every 2 hours, protective clothing and a hat will help prevent you from going through this again.

A really bad sunburn is not sun poisoning, just too much sun exposure.  True sun poisoning is is called Solar Urticaria.  It is a rare reaction to sun exposure.  This is a true sun allergy.  It develops rapidly--moments after exposure, the skin begins to itch, and then becomes red with wheals (red patches) or vesicles (bumps).

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Response by:

Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD
Associate Professor of Pathology
Associate Professor of Molecular Virology, Immunology & Medical Genetics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University