Everyone has experienced sunburn at some point, but sun poisoning is a whole different beast. What’s most dangerous about sun poisoning is that it’ll catch you by surprise. You might be lounging by the pool when, all of a sudden, you’re hit by a wave of sickness.
If you plan to spend time in the sun this summer, learn to recognize the symptoms of sun poisoning so you can protect yourself, rejuvenate your body and get back to the fun.
What exactly is sun poisoning?
Sun poisoning occurs with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. It’s not an official medical term, nor does it mean you’ve literally been poisoned by the sun. Rather, sun poisoning simply means your body is experiencing a negative reaction to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
Sun poisoning is more than a sunburn. However, people who experience sun poisoning usually develop the symptoms of a sunburn first—red, itchy, swollen and tender skin. These symptoms should be a clue that your body is wearing down and needs to get out of the sun. Unfortunately, many people underestimate how bad sunburns can get. If ignored for too long, sunburns could progress into sun poisoning.
Some people are more predisposed than others to sun poisoning. Individuals with a fair complexion have low levels of melatonin, a pigment that determines the color of a person’s skin. Lower melatonin levels increase the risk of sunburn and sun poisoning. Certain medications can also result in skin sensitivity, so it’s important to speak with your doctor about the potential side effects of antibiotics, birth control pills and topical treatments like acne medicine before spending hours outside.
Symptoms of sun poisoning
Understanding the symptoms of sun poisoning is the first step toward keeping you and your friends safe this summer. You’ll be able to identify sun poisoning right away and improve the chances of a speedy recovery.
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Rash or blisters: Sun poisoning often starts with burned skin. You can tell if someone has sun poisoning because their sunburn will turn into an itchy rash or painful blisters. Some might even develop small bumps on areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure. In severe cases, a person can experience hives on their arms, legs and chest.
- Fever and chills: Sun poisoning is usually associated with a fever and uncontrollable shivering. A fever and chills can develop after just a few hours under direct sunlight. You might feel as if you’ve come down with the flu minus the coughing, stuffy nose and sore throat. If you start to feel sick, don’t be fooled—the sun is causing trouble, not a stomach bug!
- Dehydration: People with sun poisoning experience severe dehydration, which is characterized by a headache and unusually dry skin. Remember that feeling thirsty is a sign that dehydration is already kicking in!
- Dizziness: Sun poisoning often makes people feel faint, especially if they haven’t been drinking enough fluids. Severe bouts of sun poisoning may even cause some people to lose consciousness. Dizziness often crops up alongside cognitive problems such as confusion and brain fog.
Sun safety tips
The best way to keep your skin—and the rest of your body—healthy during the hot months is by using a protective sunscreen. Choose a sunscreen that’s at least 30 SPF and says “broad spectrum” on the label. Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB sun rays. UVA rays have a long wavelength and cause long-term, skin-aging effects, while UVB rays are much shorter and lead to sunburns. Broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher will not only keep your skin healthy but preserve its radiance for many years.
Sunscreen is most effective when you apply it 15 to 30 minutes before heading into the sun. This allows the sunscreen to absorb into your skin and work its magic. Remember to apply a fresh coat every two hours and after hopping out of the pool.
It’s also a good idea to keep your cool this summer by staying indoors during peak hours of the day. Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., since this is when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you have to go outside during that time, protect yourself from the sun with dark, long-sleeved clothing, sunglasses and a brimmed hat. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Don’t forget to stay hydrated, too! Drinking plenty of water and beverages with electrolytes is key to a hydrated body. Keep a water bottle with you any time you’re outside and drink regularly—not just when you’re feeling thirsty—to stave off dehydration.
Sun poisoning can get serious, but it’s less of a danger when you follow these summer safety tips. It’s easy to have fun in the sun while staying safe at the same time. Know your body’s limits and step into the shade for a water break when you need it. Prioritizing your health will let you and your friends keep the party going all day long!