Sun Poisoning: Symptoms, Rash, and Treatment

Sun Poisoning: Symptoms, Rash, and Treatment

Sunlight is a rich source of vitamin D that regulates multiple functions in the body, including mental health. The warmth of the winter sun is a blissful experience after the longer and colder nights. However, some individuals experience a painful skin condition on exposure to the sun, called sun poisoning. 

Also called photodermatitis, it is an exaggerated skin reaction to the sun rays. It must be differentiated from severe sun burns to receive appropriate medical care. In the article below, we will discuss sun poisoning, its causes, rash patterns, and management.

Sun Poisoning – What Is It?

Sun poisoning is a skin condition that occurs in response to increased exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. It must be differentiated from sunburn as the latter occurs in the superficial layer of the skin only. Sun poisoning is a more severe condition that involves both superficial and deeper layers of the skin (epidermis and dermis). Individuals with prior history of sunburns, allergy to the sunlight or simply having fair skin are prone to sun poisoning.

Ongoing research in University College London hypothesizes the involvement of certain genetic elements in increased susceptibility to sun poisoning. It suggests that individuals from a certain region or coming from a certain line of previous generations may be experiencing severe symptoms of sun poisoning while the others do not.

What are the Symptoms of Sun Poisoning?

Symptoms of sun poisoning are not sudden in onset. Initially, it looks a lot like a typical mild to moderate sunburn. It progresses to severe skin symptoms as the sun continues to damage the sensitive skin over longer periods of exposure. Bolded below are the severe symptoms of sun poisoning:

Sunburn is the initial symptom that occurs in susceptible populations after 02 hours of exposure to hot sun. Exposed skin surfaces turn red along with swelling and blistering that is tender to touch.

The blister formation progresses to Peeling of the Skin in the form of thin translucent shreds. The skin below the peeled off sites turns pink with increased burning sensation.

The thermostat in brain detects the burn and signals excessive secretion of water in the targeted regions to cool off the burnt site. Fluid accumulation and retention occurs around the burnt skin (oedema) that gives a swelled-up appearance. This process also results in Dehydration that further worsens the symptoms as the brain struggles to release the heat.

The body’s temperature increases as the brain fails to release its heat in dehydration, resulting in Fever and Chills. It also occurs due to bacterial invasion and infection since the compromised skin defence gives way to the potent pathogens.

Symptoms of nausea, confusion and headache occurs in advanced cases that is followed by fainting as well.

Rash Variations in Sun Poisoning:

The developing rash in sun poisoning is a distinctive feature that differentiates it from other severe skin conditions such as sunburn and erythema multiforme. The severity and distribution of associated rash varies based on factors such as previous history of skin conditions, period of exposure to the sun and low levels of melatonin in the skin (fair skin type).

The variations and patterns of rash associated with sun poisoning include:

  1. Polymorphous Light Eruptions:

PMLE is a common form of sun poisoning. It appears as tiny itchy bumps on sun-exposed areas that are affected by the sun. This form of rash has a delayed onset that takes days to appear on face and arms after exposure to sun.

  1. Solar Urticaria:

It is a rare but severe itchy form of sun poisoning. It appears as swollen red lesions and wheals with defined boundaries (hives). This form of sun poisoning is sudden in onset that persists for days after an exposure to sun.

  1. Actinic Prurigo:

It is also a rare form of sun poisoning that affects individuals for longer periods. This form of rash is both itchy and form scales over the affected sites. The skin is repeatedly affected and upon chronic itching, it thickens, and scar formation occurs.

It is important for healthcare experts to diagnose and detect the type of rash pattern involved in a clinical case of sun poisoning for appropriate medical care.

Treatment of Sun Poisoning:

Sun poisoning is a burning skin condition that require immediate protection from the heat along with provision of symptomatic treatment. Healthcare experts at the British Association of Dermatologists time and again stresses the significance of early identification and treatment of photodermatitis. Prompt treatment prevents the excessive skin damage and scar formation in the long run.

Below are some of the commonly advised treatment methods and management plans for patients experiencing sun poisoning.

Topical Medicine:

Topical steroids are effective in acute skin conditions. It lowers the inflammatory response to any condition while the body prepares to assemble its best soldiers for defence (immune system). Over the counter topical steroids reduces the inflammation and burning sensation due to sun poisoning. Other than steroids, application of aloe vera gel also provides relief against sun poisoning and avoid scar formation.

Furthermore, affected individuals are advised to keep their skin hydrated with friendly moisturisers that must reduce the loss of water and salts in perspiration.

Oral Medicine:

In severe cases of photodermatitis, or sun poisoning, oral medications are also started. These medications are mainly for pain relief and reducing inflammation such as oral corticosteroids or NSAIDs. Additionally, individuals experiencing sun poisoning due to sun allergy also benefits from anti-allergic medications such as anti-histamines to reduce the triggered immune response to harmless allergen.

Hydration and Protection:

Sun poisoning leads to excessive loss of water and salts. It is important to maintain the hydration status by increasing daily intake of water or fresh fruit juices. To avoid severe episodes of sun poisoning, susceptible individuals must use broad-spectrum sunscreen with high spf, wear light coloured and soft fabric clothing and avoid going out in the sun during its strongest hours. Click here to reach the variety-land of best sunscreens in affordable prices.

Welzo recommends visiting a dermatologist in any stage of sun poisoning to know the exact form of sun poisoning and receive the best care accordingly.

People Also Ask

Is it possible to develop sun allergy?

Yes, cases of individuals with allergy to sunlight are often reported. This phenomenon is known as dermatoses that potentially leads to the various forms of sun poisoning. The symptoms of sun allergy include development of red rash with blisters right after exposure to the sun. It is important to visit a dermatologist to get medical advice before experiencing severe outcomes such as sun poisoning.

Can sun poisoning cause skin damage in the long run?

Yes, sun poisoning notoriously damages the skin due to its chronic disease pattern. Individuals experiencing sun poisoning resort to scratching the itchy skin that leads to blistering and scar formation. Additionally, it also darkens and thickens the skin while increasing the risk of premature aging of the skin as well. It is a known fact that chronic and persistent severe skin damage often result in advanced skin conditions such as skin cancer.

How long does it take to recover from sun poisoning?

Recovery depends on severity of the sun poisoning and the type of affected skin. Fair skin type is low on melanin and takes longer in healing from insult. The typical duration of recovery ranges from days to weeks. In the meantime, it is important for the affected individuals to completely avoid the sun, maintain hydration status and take medicines regularly for rapid relief from the sun poisoning.

Is sun poisoning more severe in children than adults?

Yes, children experience more severe forms of sun poisoning that result in dire consequences if not addressed timely or appropriately. It is more severe in children due to their soft and delicate skin that has weak defences and inadequate protective mechanisms. The symptoms of sun poisoning appear rapidly and intensely in young children that require timely medical attention. In cases of excessive sweating, children must receive treatment for severe dehydration as well. It is important to educate the child about their skin condition and teach effective strategies for sun protection.


Sun poisoning, or photodermatitis, is a severe skin condition that manifests itself upon exposure to sun. It does not affect everyone; however, the affected individuals face a great ordeal due to this condition. Symptoms of sun poisoning include sunburn, severe itchiness, fluid retention and dehydration. It has distinctive rash patterns that differentiates it from other skin conditions and helps in determining the specific type and stage of sun poisoning. Treatment of sun poisoning is based on protection, avoiding the sun, self-care, and symptomatic relief. Over the counter corticosteroids and pain relief medications are recommended for use in patients with severe symptoms of sun poisoning.

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