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What is severe sunburn?

Caused by damage from the sun's rays, sunburn in adults can cause wrinkles, brown spots, and even skin cancer. Severe sunburn is sunburn that's so bad it makes you feel sick. Along with the redness, swelling, and pain of regular sunburn, you may also have blisters, a fever, chills, a bad headache, and an upset stomach. You may even throw up and feel dizzy. If this happens, you should call your healthcare provider right away.


You may not know right away if you have severe sunburn. You might not know how bad your sunburn is for 12 to 24 hours after spending time in the sun.


How can I treat my severe sunburn?

If your healthcare provider tells you that you have severe sunburn, the damage to your skin is already done. But you can take these steps to help ease the pain and prevent other problems.


* Drink plenty of water.


* Apply a cool, wet cloth to the sunburned area three or four times a day, or take a cool bath.


* Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen as directed by your healthcare provider if you have sunburn pain or a headache.


* If you have blisters on your skin, don't break them because they might get infected. If they break on their own, gently wash the area two to three times a day with mild soap and water and lightly cover it with a sterile dressing or nonstick bandage, as directed by your healthcare provider.


* Don't use any other first-aid creams or sprays on severely sunburned skin unless prescribed by your healthcare provider. You can apply a light moisturizer to keep your skin from drying out.


* Stay out of the sun.


* If you have eye pain or feel confused or dizzy, call 911.



How can I avoid getting sunburn?

The best way to avoid getting sunburn is to protect yourself from the sun whenever you're outside, and not just during the summer or at the beach. The sun's rays can damage your skin all year round, even on cloudy and hazy days. If you're going outdoors, take these steps to stay safe. If you have children, take the same precautions for them.


* Never seek out the sun to get a tan. Like sunburn, a suntan damages your skin.


* Don't use tanning beds or sun lamps because they can cause the same skin damage as the sun.


* Choose a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more that's waterproof or water-resistant.


* Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before you go outside. Use at least 1 oz (2 tablespoons or enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the exposed areas of your body. Don't overlook often-forgotten places like your scalp, the back of your neck, the tops of your feet, and your ears. Reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or towel-drying. Use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 too.


* Check the expiration date of any sunscreen products you have in your home. Throw away any product that's expired.


* Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.


* Wear protective clothing such as loose shirts with long sleeves, long pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and shoes. Keep in mind that clothes don't protect your skin completely from the sun's rays, so wear sunscreen too.


* Wear wraparound sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays (check the tag on the sunglasses you buy to make sure).


* Head indoors right away if your skin starts to ache or tingle.


* Ask your healthcare provider if any medicines you're taking will make your skin more sensitive to sunlight (photosensitive). Examples include some types of antibiotics and acne medicines. If you take one of these drugs, you may need to avoid the sun altogether.