Red Flags: Danger! Severe sunburn in season
Richard L. Pullen EdD, RN
Kelly Savage MSN, RN

$3.95
Nursing Made Incredibly Easy!
August 2011 
Volume 9  Number 4
Pages 13 - 15
 
  PDF Version Available!

ABSTRACT
Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to UV rays exceeds the protective capability of the body's defense mechanism, the skin pigment called melanin. Shorter-wavelength UVB rays are the main culprits for the erythema (redness) that develops in sunburn, but UVA rays are much more abundant (about 95% to 98% at midday) and create most of the immediate and long-term damaging effects of UV light. UV radiation is the highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even on cloudy days, UV radiation penetrates and can cause severe burns.Although melanin does yield some protection, exposure to UV rays eventually causes damage to the skin. Severe sunburn is an acute inflammatory response of the body to this damage. First, blood vessels dilate, creating the erythematous rash that typically occurs in sunburned skin. Shortly after, the body reacts to the inflammation by releasing chemicals such as histamine and cytokines, creating edema and the beginning of blisters. Within a few hours of overexposure to the sun or other light sources, DNA damage and cell death are visible under a microscope. In severe sunburn, the damage to the skin goes beyond a first-degree burn, where only the outermost layer of the skin, or epidermis, is affected. Second-degree sunburn permeates the epidermis and the underlying dermis.Anyone can experience severe sunburn. Those most at risk are children, older adults, and individuals with fair or freckled skin or pale white skin, blue/hazel eyes, and blond/red hair. Lighter-skinned individuals are affected more frequently and severely. Skin types are often described using the Fitzpatrick Classification Scale, which classifies individuals according to their tendency to tan, burn, or both (see Skin type and sunburn potential).There are other factors that make a person prone to sunburn. People who want a tan from the sun or tanning salons are at risk for severe sunburn. People who live at higher altitudes tend to experience severe sunburn faster, as do people living closer

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