Sunburn Symptoms, Pain, Poisoning and Redness

Sunburn Symptoms, Pain, Poisoning and Redness


Understanding sunburn symptoms is the key to stopping further damage from excessive exposure to UV rays from the sun or sunlamps. This article will not only highlight the symptoms to look out for but also explain the causes and management options for sunburn-related redness and pain, not to forget sunburn poisoning.

Sunburn Symptoms – Signs of Sunburn

As we have already mentioned in the introductory sunburn article,  the severity of sunburn vary depending on factors such as skin type, period of exposure and how strong the UV rays (depending on the time of day, the altitude, the latitude and proximity to water bodies).

Sunburn symptoms also vary accordingly depending on the severity of sunburn, Although someone can get sunburned in as low as fifteen minutes, first sunburn symptoms may not show up until after five to six hours and it might take 24 hours or longer for the full effect of UV rays from the sun or other sources such as sunlamps and tanning beds becomes apparent on your skin.

According to the UK National Health Service website, the main symptoms of sunburn are red, sore skin. The skin usually feels tender and warm to the touch. It is also typical for the sunburned areas of skin to start flaking and peeling several days down the line (usually 4-7 after the exposure).

In severe cases, blisters may form within a few hours of exposure or after a few days. Some patients may also develop severe reaction leading to symptoms such as chills, fever, or nausea.

Although sunburn symptoms are usually short-lived, the skin damage caused is often permanent and can lead to serious long-term side effects such as early aging, dark spots and skin cancer.

Bad Sunburn Symptoms

You have likely come across the description, “bad sunburn” and wondered what symptoms can signal this degree of sunburn. Well, blisters are the most obvious symptoms of bad sunburn.

Second Degree Sunburn Symptoms

Most cases of sunburn lead to first degree burns that make the skin to become red, tender and warm to the touch. Second degree sunburn can however occur and this is associated with symptoms such as severe swelling, redness, and pain, and most crucially, the formation of blisters.

Blisters usually show that the burn has transcended beyond the surface layer of the skin as to cause damage to the lower layers of the skin, the cells of which are responsible for releasing the fluids contained in the blisters.

It is advisable to seek medical attention if second degree sunburn symptoms are observed as you are more susceptible to bacterial infection and other complication.

Managing sunburn symptoms

You can soothe sunburn symptoms at home using a variety of home remedies ranging from cool soaks to aloe vera (fresh sap or over the counter gel), and anti-inflammatory medicines (such as Motrin and Advil).

Moisturizing the affected areas of skin using a moisturizing cream or lotion such as Cetaphil is also helpful but you should never use petroleum jelly products such as Vaseline as these can clog the pore and trap in heat, thus worsening the sunburn.

Sunburn Pain– Painful Sunburn

Pain is one of the common symptoms associated with sunburn. The pain is attributed to damage of nerve endings under the skin and is typically at its worst 6-48 after exposure to sun or other UV rays sources e.g. sunlamps. Luckily, sunburn pain responds well to numerous treatment options including:

  • Pain Relievers: Taking over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help to reduce sunburn pain. You should however not give aspirin containing medicines to children aged below 16 years. This is because aspirin can increase their risk for Reyes Syndrome, a medical condition that despite being rare is often fatal.
  • Aloe vera: Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties which are beneficial to the skin. One option is to apply aloe vera sap from a fresh aloe vera plant directly on the affected area of skin. There are also various brands of aloe vera gel which are available in most local drugstores. Some moisturizing lotions and creams also feature aloe as one of the main ingredients.
  • Cool soaks and cold compresses: Cooling the skin helps to relieve it of sunburn pain. A nice approach is to get a cold shower or bath, but placing a wet wash rag on the affected area of the skin e.g. face can as well help. Some people also use cool tea bags in this manner.

Sunburn Redness – What causes it?

Reddening of the skin is the main and first symptom of sunburn. Sunburn redness is usually the result of having increased blood flow into the affected area of skin as the body attempts to heal it. Getting a cold shower or bath and applying aloe vera is usually effective in reducing the redness as the body heals.

Sunburn Poisoning

You have likely come across the term “sun poisoning” and wondered what it really means. Well, the phrase refers to allergic reaction to the harmful UV rays from the sun. Sun poisoning occurs when UV rays triggers a reaction in your immune system that culminate in allergic reaction in the skin.

It occurs most often in people with light skin usually as a result of excessive exposure to the sun. Some medications can also cause adverse reactions to sun rays which can then lead to sun poisoning.

Symptoms of sun poisoning include bright red rash that is often accompanied by blisters (though not necessarily), a burning sensation, swelling, itching, redness, chills, fever, and general malaise (feeling weak). In that light, sun poisoning can be seen as a more severe case of sunburn.

As with sunburn, you can always prevent sun poisoning by protecting your skin. At the very least, you should apply a good broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 when heading outdoors, even on cloudy days.