Sunburn vs. Sun Poisoning: What's the Difference?

Monday, July 25th, 2022

With summer in full swing, people are flocking to the beach, having parties at the pool, and spending time at the park. Unfortunately, without enough sunscreen, all of this fun in the sun can lead to sunburn and even sun poisoning. 

Sunburn and sun poisoning are commonly confused, but there are distinct differences between the two.

Sunburn vs. Sun Poisoning

A sunburn develops as a result of the sun’s damaging UV rays. If you spend time outside, even on a cloudy day, without wearing enough sunscreen and/or protective clothing, you may develop a sunburn. 

Sunburn symptoms typically develop just minutes or hours after sun exposure and may include skin that’s:

  • Red
  • Painful
  • Itchy
  • Swollen
  • Warm to the touch
  • Sensitive or tender
  • Peeling

Sun poisoning is more severe than sunburn. It occurs as a result of longer direct sun exposure. 

At first, sun poisoning may feel like a normal sunburn. However, symptoms will further develop and may include:

  • Hives or a rash
  • Blistering
  • Headache
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Dehydration
  • Fever/chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

Some people mistake sun poisoning for an allergic reaction or the flu. However, sun poisoning is serious and, unlike sunburn, often requires professional medical care. Your doctor may prescribe topical steroids, antihistamines, or other creams, lotions, ointments, or gels to help alleviate your sun poisoning symptoms. 

At-home care for sunburn and sun poisoning is similar. Here are our tops tips for alleviating discomfort from excess sun exposure:

  • Rehydrate with plenty of water and drinks containing electrolytes.
  • Refrain from itching the affected skin or popping blisters. 
  • Use aloe vera gel or a cool compress to calm the affected skin. Just make sure to protect your skin from the cool compress with a cloth or towel. 
  • Stay out of the sun while your skin heals.  

You can prevent sunburn and sun poisoning in the future by applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day. Make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours when you’re spending time outside. Additionally, protect your skin with sunglasses, a hat, and clothing whenever possible. 

For expert care for sunburn or sun poisoning, visit Suncoast Urgent Care today. 

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