Health & Wellness

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Understanding sun poisoning

A trip to the beach is an enjoyable way to spend a day. With warm waves lapping at your feet and a good book to enjoy, hours relaxing at the seaside tend to pass by quite quickly. While such days are often comfortable and relaxing, if you aren't careful, you may be putting yourself at risk of sunburn and sun poisoning.

Sunburns are never a good thing, but sun poisoning can be even more severe and the symptoms can become quite serious and uncomfortable. Despite what the term "sun poisoning" implies, the sun does not poison the body. Rather, the term describes sensitivity to sunlight that results in a wide range of symptoms that can affect the skin and body as a whole. Sun poisoning can occur when one has a sun allergy, called solar urticaria. This is very rare. However, the greatest number of sun poisoning cases are simply a severe form of sunburn.

Depending on the pigmentation of a person's skin and the severity of the sun, sunburn can occur in mere minutes. Many people can get a sunburn within 15 minutes of being in the sun. The sun's rays are most potent between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., making the majority of the day a prime time for skin damage. Although sunburn can occur quite quickly, many people do not realize anything has occurred right away. That's because sunburn symptoms can be delayed. It may take a few hours for redness to appear and discomfort to set in. Staying in the sun too long without wearing adequate protection, whether it be a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing or ample amounts of sunblock, can lead to sunburn. Over time, sunburn can progress to sun poisoning.

Symptoms of sun poisoning include a severe sunburn accompanied by blisters on the skin. Pain and tingling may occur, as well as swelling where the sun touched the body intensely. Sun poisoning also may cause fever and chills, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, as the body's immune system attempts to kick into action.

The best treatment for sun poisoning is prevention. Avoid blazing sun whenever possible and use sunblock and reapply frequently if you must be out in the sun for any duration of time. Otherwise, some cases of sun poisoning can be relieved with the application of cool compresses or by taking cool (not cold) baths. Application of aloe gels also can alleviate discomfort, in addition to taking a pain relieving NSAID pill.

If at any point a fever occurs and spikes to more than 104 F, or if there is extreme pain and vomiting, head to the emergency room. Doctors may have to quickly reduce swelling and inflammation and administer fluids intravenously to get the body back on track.

Keep in mind that blisters from sun poisoning can get infected, so it is adviseable to keep the skin clean and avoid picking at or popping blisters. Discuss any concerns about severe sunburn with a doctor.

Frequent sunburns can be linked to accelerated skin aging and can put a person at a higher risk for skin cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, ultraviolet, or UV, radiation from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer, but UV light from tanning beds is just as harmful. Cumulative sun exposure causes basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, while episodes of severe blistering sunburns, usually before age 18, can cause melanoma later in life.

Sun poisoning and sunburns are nothing to take lightly. These conditions are easy to prevent by being smart about sun exposure.

Gadsden Times