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How Long Does Sun Poisoning Last?

cartoon woman with sunburn standing under sun

Sun poisoning is a serious skin condition that typically occurs in the summer months after prolonged sun exposure to intense sunlight. While it is relatively uncommon, sun poisoning can have serious and long-term complications without the proper treatment. 

Please continue reading to learn more about recognizing sun poisoning, how long sun poisoning symptoms last, and how to prevent and treat sun poisoning. 

What is sun poisoning? Is it the same as severe sunburn?

Yes, sun poisoning is a severe sunburn that occurs on exposed skin after too much sun exposure for an extended period. 

Also called photodermatitis or polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), sun poisoning is a type of sun allergy in which an itchy red rash appears on the skin when exposed to intense sunlight. 

The main difference between sunburn and sun poisoning is that the latter is relatively uncommon and more severe. Sun poisoning is often mistaken for sunburn. However, severe sun poisoning requires medical treatment to prevent complications, unlike mild sunburn. 

People with fair skin, those with a pre-existing condition like eczema or lupus, or those who use acne medications that cause sun sensitivity are at higher risk of developing sun poisoning.

How do you know if you have sun poisoning? 

The main symptom of sun poisoning is a red rash that appears in sun-exposed areas after prolonged exposure to the sun. The rash burns, dries up, and eventually peels off. 

More severe symptoms of sun poisoning can include small bumps, large blisters, swelling, headache, fever, confusion, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, dehydration, and fainting.

What does sun poisoning feel like?

Sun poisoning can feel like a sunburn skin reaction in the early stages. However, eventually more severe symptoms can develop, such as a widespread red rash, blisters in the sunburned area, and flu-like symptoms

How long do sun poisoning symptoms last?

Sun poisoning symptoms can last anywhere from 2-3 days to several weeks, depending on the severity of skin damage. 

You should know that it does not take several hours of sun exposure to get sunburned. You can get sunburned in less than 15 minutes during peak hours when the sun is high in the sky. Sun poisoning typically occurs after you spend an extended period outdoors and have too much exposure to intense sunlight. 

Does sun poisoning go away on its own?

Sun poisoning is a serious condition that needs to be treated promptly. Sun poisoning may worsen and cause complications if it is not treated early.

What is the treatment for sun poisoning?

Mild sun poisoning can be treated with home remedies and self-care. You should stay hydrated and take over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen. Cool compresses and aloe vera gel can help soothe your skin. Bathe in cool water and avoid harsh skincare products or scented bath salts because they can irritate your skin. It’s important to avoid tanning beds and further sun exposure until your skin has healed, and also to take precautions in the future so that it does not happen again.

Severe cases of sun poisoning require medical care. Doctors may treat the sun rash and other symptoms with steroid creams for the blisters, oral steroids to reduce pain and swelling, antibiotics to prevent infection, and intravenous fluids to correct dehydration.

You should seek medical attention in an emergency room or urgent care center if you develop a fever, chills, nausea, headache, confusion, fainting, or dehydration. 

What are the after-effects of sun poisoning? 

Without the proper treatment, sun poisoning can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications like dehydration. Skin infection can develop from scratching or popping the blisters. Also, cumulative sun exposure over the years can lead to premature skin aging and an increased risk of developing skin cancer

How to protect against excessive sun exposure and sun poisoning?

Some simple precautions can protect you against sunburn and sun poisoning:

  • Always wear sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), even on cloudy days. Check that your sunscreen is broad-spectrum because both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin damage.
  • Reapply the sunscreen every two hours or every one hour after swimming.
  • Wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses that offer UV protection.
  • Avoid going outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is especially strong.