Types of Sun Poisoning

Health Writer

In my last post, Sun Poisoning, we discussed how, even a single episode of sun poisoning - severe sunburn - can put you at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. But there are different types of sun poisoning and this week we will look at each type. Like sun poisoning from over-exposure to the sun, the symptoms are usually short-lived and do not cause an immediate health risk.

Types of Sun Poisoning

The three types of sun poisoning are:

Sun poisoning from an episode of over-exposure to the sun and is also referred to as severe sunburn. It is more common in fair-skinned people and causes symptoms such as redness, blisters, rash, nausea, headache and dehydration. Certain medications or chemicals can make you more sensitive to sunlight and, when preventive measures are not taken, can cause sun poisoning to occur more quickly and in those who are not fair-skinned.

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) occurs in those people who are not used to the intense effects of the sun, for example, someone who lives in northern climates and vacations in southern or tropical settings when the sun is stronger. It is more common in women than in men. Native Americans can have a hereditary form of PMLE, with symptoms lasting from spring until fall.

Solar urticaria is an allergy to the sun. Symptoms can develop within minutes of exposure but normally disappear within a few hours. Some people have an allergic reaction to the sun, on and off, for many years.

Symptoms

You may have different symptoms, depending on the type of sun poisoning you are experiencing. The major symptoms of each type include:

Severe sunburn:

  • Redness of skin
  • Blisters
  • Swelling
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fever/chills
  • Dehydration

Polymorphous light eruption:

  • Hives or small bumps all over the body, sometimes bumps appear in clumps
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Chills

Solar urticaria:

  • Redness and itching
  • Raised areas
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Treatment and Prevention

Protecting yourself from the sun's rays is the first step to preventing any type of sun poisoning. Wearing wide brimmed hats, using sunscreen, wearing light colored, loose clothing to cover your skin and staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (10:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M.) can help prevent all three types of sun poisoning. If you are taking any medications, you should speak with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if these medications will increase your sensitivity to the sun and ask about additional preventive measures you can take.

If you do get sun poisoning, some of the treatments include:

For severe sunburn:

  • Drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration
  • Use over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to relieve pain
  • Take cool showers to relieve pain and burning
  • Apply cool compresses to affected areas
  • Use aloe gel or other moisturizers

Polymorphous light eruption and solar urticaria:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Phototherapy to help desensitize skin

Polymorphous light eruption

  • Low does antimalarials

Solar urticaria:

  • Antihistamines

For symptoms such as fever/chills, facial swelling, confusion, fainting, dehydration or loss of consciousness, you should immediately talk to your doctor or seek immediate medical help.

References:

"Dangers of Sun Poisoning," Date Unknown, Jane McGrath, Discovery Fit and Health

"How to Treat Sun Poisoning," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, SunPoisoning.org

"Information and More on Sun Poisoning," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, SunPoisoning.org

"Sun Poisoning: Recognizing the Signs, Treating the Symptoms," Date Unknown, Sarah Densmore, Dummies.com