Once you get a sunburn, keep the skin cool and moist with soaks and take regular doses of anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin until the redness resolves.
A sunburn can be very painful. Learn the reasons why the pain is important, how to prevent it and when to seek a physician in this Q-and-A.
Q. What is the importance of pain when it comes to sunburn?
A. In evolutionary terms, the pain serves the purpose of telling you to get out of the sun!
Practically speaking, however, the pain means the skin has already been burned, and the damage has been done. Perhaps one wisely then learns not to overexpose again.
Q. What would happen if we did not have this pain?
A. If one didn't feel pain at all, the skin could be even more badly burned. Death could occur because of widespread blistering and loss of the barrier function of the skin. Without the pain, people would continue to get sunburns and more sun damage, which would ultimately result in more skin cancers and death from skin cancers.
Q. What are ways to treat a sunburn?
A. Once you get a sunburn, keep the skin cool and moist with soaks and take regular doses of anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen, ibuprofen or aspirin until the redness resolves.
For milder sunburns, cool compresses with milk or milk and water can help. Burrow's solution compresses may be helpful (the powder is available at drugstores) and cool baths with oatmeal can be very soothing. Avoid sunburn treatments containing local anesthetics (caines), especially on large areas, because of the potential to develop allergies.
Q. What are ways to prevent sunburn?
A. A few simple steps will help prevent sunburn and also help prevent skin cancers, signs of aging and improve the appearance and health of your skin:
1. Wear protective clothing, including hats and long sleeves.
2. Every day, apply sunscreen to your face, neck, ears and any area that may be exposed to sunlight, even if it is only through window glass. Apply and reapply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 (30 is better) every two to three hours. If you will be outside more than usual, use an SPF of 30 or more. Sunscreen should contain one of the following ultraviolet A absorbers: avobenzone, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or ecamsule. Always apply it at least 30 minutes before going out, and reapply every 90 minutes while you are outdoors.
3. Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the ultraviolet light penetration is at its peak.
4. Staying in the shade can help, but remember that up to 80 percent of ultraviolet radiation can be reflected off of sand, water, snow and concrete. During the warm months of the year, clouds only offer minimal protection, and it is common to get an unexpected burn on a cloudy day.
Q. When should you seek a physician?
A. Seek a physician when you experience fever or chills, extensive blistering, lightheadedness, nausea and vomiting, or when the pain is intolerable.
Dr. Lucinda Buescher is associate professor and chief of the dermatology division and director of the Dermatology Residency Training Program at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Dr. Stephen Stone is professor in the Division of Dermatology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
-- Be Healthy Springfield (Ill.)