unburn is usually described as skin burned by exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light. See also. Your chances of developing a sunburn are greater between 10 AM and 4 PM, when the sun’s rays are strongest and it is easier to burn on a hot day, because the heat increases the effect of the UV rays.
Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light source exceeds the ability of the body's protective pigment, melanin, to protect the skin. Sunburn in a very light-skinned person may occur in less than 15 minutes of noonday sun exposure, while a dark-skinned person may tolerate the same exposure for hours.
It is now recognized that sunburn and sun exposure should not be taken as something insignificant. Deaths have resulted from acute sun exposure and significant temporary disability is experienced by millions of sunburned people each year.
Unlike a thermal burn, sunburn is not immediately apparent. By the time the skin starts to become painful and red the damage has been done. The pain is worst between 6 and 48 hours after sun exposure. In severe sunburns, blistering of the skin may occur. Edema of the skin, especially in the legs, is common. Toxins are released with sunburn and fever is not uncommon. Skin peeling usually begins between 3 and 8 days after exposure.
The long-term consequences of years of overexposure to the sun are significant. One blistering sunburn doubles the likelihood of developing malignant melanoma. Chronic sun exposure causes premature wrinkling and aging of the skin. Age spots (lentigo) are a result of sun exposure. Skin cancer (basal cell and squamous cell cancer) is directly related to the amount of sun exposure (determined by skin pigmentation and hours in the sun). Finally, sun exposure and ultraviolet damage have been implicated in the development of cataracts.
Very effective sun screens have been developed that protect from UVA and UVB (long and short wavelengths of ultraviolet light), which are the components of sunlight responsible for burning and cancerous changes in the skin. Sunscreen, protective clothing, and ultraviolet-protected sunglasses are all recommended to prevent excessive sun exposure.
Treating a sunburn
Sunburn can be dangerous. There are several types of burns and burn treatments. Unfortunately there is no quick cure for even minor sunburn. Wet compresses, tub baths and soothing lotions may provide some relief but that all.
Remember that you may not immediately see the effects of overexposure to the sun. It may take up to 24 hours before the full damage is visible.
The two most common are first degree burns and second degree burns.
First degree sunburns cause redness and will heal, possibly with some peeling, within a few days. These can be painful and are best treated with cool baths and bland moisturizers or over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. Avoid the use of "-caine" products (such as benzocaine) which may cause sensitivity to a broad range of important chemicals. Aspirin taken orally may lessen early development of sunburn.
Second degree sunburns blister and can be considered a medical emergency if a large area is affected. When a burn is severe, accompanied by a headache, chills or a fever, seek medical help right away. Be sure to protect your skin from the sun while it heals and thereafter. Several studies associate severe childhood or adolescent sunburns with the development of malignant melanoma, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer, later in life.
Treatment of sunburn is symptomatic, and prevention remains the key to avoiding the painful consequences of overexposure to the sun.
For first-degree burns, a prescription corticosteroid lotion may be prescribed. The rare second-degree burns (with blisters) may be treated with antibiotics, analgesics, and/or sedatives.
After seeing your health care provider:
You may want to add a diagnosis related to sunburn to your personal medical record.
For sunburn pain, try acetaminophen, cold compresses, and cool baths. (Aspirin should be avoided in children who also appear ill). Avoid products that contain benzocaine, and avoid use of Vaseline. If blisters are present, dry bandages may help prevent infection.
Sunburn is better prevented than treated. Effective sunscreens are available in a wide variety of strengths.