When to See a Doctor About Sunburn & What to Do First If You Get One

Don't try to manage a second-degree sunburn at home.

When to See a Doctor About Sunburn & What to Do First If You Get One

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As summer winds down, people make it their mission to pack in as much outdoor time as possible. And why not? Unless you’re reading this article from your apartment in Rio, it’s going to be tough to get in that vitamin D come November. But if you’re not good at applying (and reapplying!) sunblock, you may wind up closer to “scorched” at the end of a long beach day. In 2010, 37.5 percent of adults reported getting sunburned, and the CDC hopes to lower that to 33.8 percent by 2020. But once the damage has been done, what’s the best option for a quick recovery? And do you ever need to see a doctor about a sunburn? Here are some of the best ways to protect yourself, and what to do if you find yourself with a next-level sunburn.


Six Degrees of (Skin) Separation

A sunburn occurs when ultraviolet A or B rays damage DNA. Your immune system responds and causes local inflammation. The blood vessels become engorged, causing redness, while the damaged skin becomes swollen and tender. The damage is usually evident within a few hours of sun exposure.

The extent of the damage determines the depth and symptoms of the sunburn. You’ve probably heard of first-, second-, and third-degree burns – all of which refer to the depth of the burn, and whether it’s affecting structures below the skin. (Doctors generally favor more descriptive labels to describe burns – like “superficial” or “deep partial-thickness” – but the degrees just sound more dramatic.)

A sunburn is typically a first- or second-degree burn. A first-degree burn affects just the epidermis, the top layer of skin, causing redness and mild pain. A second-degree burn affects the deeper layer of skin, known as the dermis, and causes swelling, blistering, and more severe pain. Most people who report sunburns are talking about first-degree burns, but if sunscreen is totally ignored and you're exposed to the sun for a prolonged period of time, you could be left with a more serious second-degree burn. 

Is It Safer In the Late Afternoon? And Other Myths About Prevention

Multiple sunburns greatly increase your risk of melanoma, so even if you’re not bothered by redness and pain, you should still take precautions. Although the sun is most intense between 11 am and 3 pm, it’s important to protect your skin whenever the sun is up.

It’s best to just wear sun-resistant clothing or apply sunblock throughout the day. Make sure to use at least SPF 30, and don’t be stingy: the sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and sooner if you’ve been in the water. (Even “sun-resistant” sunscreens are actually just washed off.)

So What's The Cure For Sunburn?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’ve already been burned, however, here a few basic tips to control your symptoms and accelerate the healing process:

  • Apply aloe vera gels to red, damaged skin in order to keep them moist and relieve some pain.
  • Take ibuprofen for pain relief as needed.
  • Wash blisters with mild soap and water and then cover them with bandages, taking care to apply the adhesive portion away from the blistered skin.
  • See your doctor if you experience fever, lightheadedness, or nausea, as it may be a sign of a more severe burn that requires intravenous fluids. 
  • Also see your doctor if the sunburn is extremely painful or it appears infected, meaning that part of it is draining pus or has red streaks extending into the adjacent skin. You should also see your doctor if the burn is not improving with the above-listed measures.

This article was written and produced by AmIDying.com and originally appeared on its website. You can order the Am I Dying?! book to learn more about other diagnoses. 

Related:

These 4 Forgotten Places for Sunscreen Will Protect You From Sneaky Burns This Summer

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Spring and Summer Skincare Tips You Need

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Celebrity divorce attorney and relationship expert Vikki Ziegler says you should treat COVID-19 like an STD.

Just when we thought relationships and dating could not get any more complicated, the pandemic took this matter to a whole new level. Celebrity divorce attorney and relationship expert, Vikki Ziegler receives an abundance of questions about this exact topic, every single day. Her fans and followers message her via her social media channels, in the hopes of finding the right way to safely date during these times. So, if this topic has crossed your mind, rest assured you are not alone.

For those who used to "swipe left and right," on the regular, Vikki recommends slowing down for the time being, no matter what type of antibacterial wipes are being used between your swipes. Serial dating during COVID-19 can be dangerous and also very selfish at the same time. This might be a good time to either take a break from dating altogether, or invest more time in one relationship and being monogamous, at least for right now. "Everyone should treat COVID-19 as they do an STD, while dating and practice safe EVERYTHING, even beyond just intimacy," says Ziegler. "This will simplify the process and make the do's and don'ts much less complex."

She recommends that new partners keep the dating virtual prior to both being tested and or having the vaccine. "Screendating" can still be both fun and safe at the same time. She suggests that you still wear your favorite new dress, get that fresh haircut or blowout and act as though you are still going out, even if the date is happening in the privacy of your own home. She has suggested some ideas such as virtual movie nights, happy hours, cooking classes, and the most obvious, the at-home and virtual dining date. This would entail both partners ordering food to each of their respective homes, but using the same menu as if they were dining in person.

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