Home » Your Health » Exposing the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of Sun Poisoning

Exposing the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of Sun Poisoning

When we think of the sun, we think about getting outside to enjoy it, or how important it is to grow those tomato plants in the yard. We don’t necessarily think of it as something that can actually poison us, but it turns out that’s a thing.

Sun poisoning doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been poisoned in the traditional sense, although it can make you quite ill and mimic symptoms of food poisoning. Here are 12 things to look out for if you’ve been out in the sun too long without adequate sunscreen protection…

1. Defining Sun Poisoning

As WebMD points out, sun poisoning does not literally mean you’ve been poisoned – it’s a term used for extreme sunburn due to UV rays inflaming your skin.

Sun poisoning can present a variety of symptoms, some you can see, and some you can definitely feel. “Within just 15 minutes of being in the sun, you can be sunburned,” says the source, adding that you may not feel the symptoms right away.

2. Types of Sun Poisoning: PLME

The same source says there are 2-variations to reactions to sunlight, and 1-of them is called Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). “It happens in people who are at risk and who are exposed to intense sunlight that they’re not used to,” it notes.

For example, if you live in a temperate climate and head off to a tropical vacation, you may be at risk for this form of sun poisoning, which typically takes hours to appear. It adds that an inherited form of this condition occurs among Native Americans, and “it can last from spring to fall.”

3. Types of Sun Poisoning: Solar Urticaria

This is a more sudden reaction to sun exposure, says WebMD. In fact, it says symptoms may appear within minutes, as opposed to hours like PLME.

At the same time, the symptoms may subside relatively quickly as opposed to other sun reactions – WebMD says the associated rash can disappear within hours. However, “you may experience the reaction off and on throughout the years,” it adds.

4. Rash Behavior of Sun Poisoning

Redness is quite typical of a mild sunburn, but in the case of sun poisoning, you’ll experience skin symptoms that are “significantly worse” than a mild sunburn, notes Healthline.com. That includes a “widespread rash” that can be extremely itchy.

A sun rash (which is actually a sun allergy) can occur from sun exposure or contact from certain outdoor plants (such as parsnip), but a sun rash as a result of sun poisoning “is more of an isolated event that needs medical attention,” notes the source.

5. Symptoms of Sun Poisoning: Visible

Healthline.com has a list of possible symptoms of sun poisoning, some which are obvious by looking at them, others not so much. Sun poisoning is “significantly worse” than a mild sunburn that is defined by redness, pain, and swelling, it adds.

In the case of sun poisoning, you’ll likely see blistering or peeling skin and “severe redness and pain,” adds the source. While a mild sunburn usually goes away on its own, sun poisoning cases may require medical attention, it adds.

6. Symptoms of Sun Poisoning: Beyond The Rash

There are a variety of other potential symptoms that go along with sun poisoning that extend beyond reddened skin and rash, adds Healthline. For example, someone experiencing sun poisoning can develop a fever, nausea, and vomiting, it says.

On top of that, a patient with sun poisoning may be dehydrated, can experience headaches, as well as confusion, dizziness or even fainting, it adds.

7. It Can Mimic The Flu

As Reader’s Digest points out, a day in the sun may make you feel like you’re coming down with the flu. However, “summer isn’t exactly flu season,” so if you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms such as achiness after hanging out on the beach all day, then you may actually have sun poisoning.

Why does this happen? “When the skin is damaged by UV rays, it releases chemicals that basically turn on the immune system and make you feel terrible like you’ve got the flu,” explains the source. You’ll also have the telltale rash from sun exposure to go with it.

8. A Prickly Topic

Reader’s Digest says that while a mild sunburn “is far from comfortable to the touch,” sun poisoning can be downright horrible to touch. That means even the shirt you’re wearing brushing against you can cause extreme discomfort, it adds.

“If your body is covered in a prickly sensation or you want to scream every time a hand or shirt brushes against your skin, it could be a sign your sunburn is on the very severe side,” warns Reader’s Digest. It suggests applying aloe, taking a cool shower, or taking ibuprofen (Advil) to get some relief.

9. Causes of Sun Poisoning

There is the obvious reason for sun poisoning, and that’s simply being out in the sun too long without proper sunscreen protection, says Healthline. However, there are several risk factors linked to sun poisoning, it adds.

Those factors include being fair skinned, having relatives who have had skin cancer, taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives, using herbal remedies (St. John’s wort is mentioned in particular), using citrus oils on your skin before heading outside, living at high altitudes, or are using alpha hydroxy acids that are present in chemical peels. You can also get sun poisoning from outdoor sporting in winter, as sun reflects off snow, it adds.

10. Treating Sun Poisoning at Home

In many cases of sun poisoning, you can usually follow “simple remedies” that can provide relief, says WebMD. For starters, get out of the sun (completely cover up if you have to go out), it says. Then try taking a cool shower or bath or using cool compresses on the skin, it adds.

You should also step up your fluid intake, as dehydration is a factor. Use over-the-counter pain medications if needed, and apply aloe gel or moisturizers, says the source.

11. When Sun Poisoning Becomes Serious

WebMD says in other cases, you may need to get to a doctor to deal with your symptoms. It says to seek immediate medical care if you have a sunburn that forms blisters or covers a large area, are in a lot of pain, or have facial swelling.

Also get prompt medical help if you have fever or chills, nausea, headache, feel confused or like you’re going to faint, or have signs of dehydration, it adds.

12. Take Precautions So You Don’t Get Burned

Enjoying the sun is great, but it’s not worth laying in bed at home or in a hospital due to sun poisoning. WebMD says if you’re heading outside, you should apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30-or higher, and make sure it covers a “broad spectrum” – UVA and UVB rays.

It says to reapply sunscreen every 2-hours or after you’ve been sweating or swimming, and to limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (although you can get burned any time of day). Be sure to wear proper sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing, and check with your doctor if any of your medications could raise your risk of a sun reaction.


More on ActiveBeat
  • Some Vital Reasons to Use Sunscreen
    There was a time, many years ago now it seems, when you only felt compelled to use sunscreen on trips to the beach or to a friend's swimming pool -- moments when you knew you'd be...
    Your Health
  • Home Remedies for a Painful Sunburn
    During the long months of winter, when the days are short and the nights are long, most of us pine for sunlight, which seems to be very hard to find in the months following...
    Your Health
  • Summer's Line Up of Sun-Protecting Foods
    The phrase “you are what you eat” is especially pertinent when it comes to the health of your skin.
    Your Health
  • People Still Confused by Sunblock Labels, Study Shows
    Most people know they should be applying suncreen before heading out on a hot, sunny summer day.
    Your Health
  • 8 Major Summer Health Hazards
    It feels like the dog days of summer are just beginning. But with the warmer temperatures, days swimming at the beach, campfires, hikes, and barbecue grills come plenty of summer...
    Your Health
  • 8 Protective Yet Natural Bug Sprays
    What do you do when you want to enjoy a nature-filled summer or vacation in a malaria-prone area, but won’t use DEET?
    Your Health
  • 10 Protective Natural Sunscreens
    Many of us shun store-bought sunscreens due to harmful ingredients, like PABA, within that can harm our health.
    Your Health
  • 10 Potential Causes of Chronic Inflammation
    Our bodies become inflamed when the immune system jumps to action. If you suffer an ankle injury; your immune will trigger an inflammatory response (or inflammatory cascade) by...
    Your Health
  • A Refreshing Look at 8 Dehydration Myths
    If you're an athlete, chances are you've been told it's crucial that you stay hydrated, even when you're not actively training or performing.
    Your Health
  • 7 Cut and Dried Reasons for Dehydration
    Water is essential to our life and well-being, but sometimes we can come up a bit short and our body will likely tell us about it. As Health.
    Your Health
  • The Top Inflammatory Foods
    Inflammation is the body's natural response to safeguard against foreign bacteria, viruses, and infection.
    Your Health
  • The Top Signs of Dehydration
    The human body is made up of approximately 70-percent water. So it makes sense that fluids are vital for the majority of our bodily functions—protecting our joints, maintaining...
    Your Health
  • 7 Health Problems that Mimic Lyme Disease
    Lyme disease can be a very serious infectious disease that is caused by the bite of a Lyme-carrying tick (which is sometimes too small to easily detect).
    Your Health
  • 6 Tips to Avoid Long Weekend Weight Gain
    With pending statutory long weekends ahead (this Monday is the Victoria Day long weekend for Canadians while the May 30th is Memorial Day for Americans), it's easy to get caught up...
    Your Health
  • 6 Bright Tips for Sun Protection During Summer
    Depending where you live in the U.S., you may have waited months for some of that lovely, warm sunshine.
    Your Health