HCN News & Notes

From Sunburn to Sun Poisoning, Precautions Can Prevent Serious Harm

SPRINGFIELDAs the summer heats up, the healthcare providers at American Family Care (AFC) urge local residents to take precautions to prevent sunburns and sun poisoning.

“School is out, and many people are hitting the beaches, parks, and backyards looking to enjoy some summer sun,” said Dr. Andrew Koslow, associate medical director of AFC for Massachusetts. “While it’s great to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, it’s also important to remember the sun can cause both short- and long-term damage to your skin and overall health.”

Immediate effects of sunburn include redness, pain, and tenderness, with more severe cases of sun overexposure potentially causing blisters, headache, fatigue, and nausea. These signs typically appear within the first few hours and can last several days.

For some people, things can take a turn for the worse: sun poisoning.

“This sunburn complication, which is not really poisoning but rather overexposure, can include a blistering rash that burns and itches,” Koslow said. “You may also experience nausea, chills, dehydration, lightheadedness, and even shortness of breath.”

He recommends seeking medical attention for a severe sunburn. “Indicators of severity include blisters over a large area of your body or on your face or hands, severe swelling, blisters that show signs of infection, or a sunburn that doesn’t improve within a few days. Seek emergency care if a sunburn is accompanied by a fever, confusion, dehydration, or fainting.”

Because the cumulative effects of sunburns come with long-term damage and risks — including dark spots, roughness, dryness, wrinkles, and skin cancer — prevention is important. Sunburns can develop in about 15 minutes on unprotected, exposed skin.

Koslow advises limiting time in the sun; applying sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher at least 20 minutes in advance of sun exposure; reapplying sunblock every two hours, more often if perspiring heavily or getting wet; and wearing a hat or otherwise providing shade to better protect the scalp, ears, and face.

“Remember, you can get a sunburn on a cloudy, overcast day because the UV rays can penetrate cloud cover,” he added. “Your best bet is to apply sunscreen if you plan to be outside at all. Be sure to include your ears and feet, which are common places people often forget.”