Sun poisoning is an extreme-sounding term for a very common condition: it’s actually another word for sunburn, usually for severe ones.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun can cause burns to your skin. There are many common misconceptions about sunburns, for example, that they occur when you’ve been sitting in the sun for an extended period of time; but sunburns can develop in less time than you might think – as little as fifteen minutes, in some cases. Some people also believe that the visible symptoms of sunburn develop immediately, but the characteristic skin reactions may take hours to appear.
Several of the symptoms of sun poisoning can be seen on the skin, such as redness, burning or tingling sensations, and inflammation. Depending on the severity of the burn, blisters may also form. But not all of the signs are visible: dehydration and the lightheadedness and headache that accompany it are common, and some people may experience nausea or develop a fever.
The first step to treating sun poisoning is to get out of the sun; find a cool, shady spot and drink water to rehydrate. You’ll also need to be sure to drink extra fluids – preferably water – for several days until the burn heals. Taking ibuprofen can help limit pain and swelling, and aloe vera gel, applied to the skin, can soothe the burn and help it heal. Seek medical treatment for someone with a burn that is very painful, large, or blistering, as well as someone who shows other symptoms like a fever, chills, confusion, and nausea.
Children, the elderly, and those with fair skin and hair are especially vulnerable to sun poisoning and should be extra vigilant, but everyone can get sunburned – no matter your age or skin color, take protective measures. Apply a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, and be sure to reapply every hour. The label should say “broad spectrum”, as this signifies that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The sun is strongest between 10 AM and 2 PM, and around water, snow and sand, so limit your time outdoors during these hours if possible, and wear protective clothing.