How to Treat Sunburn Pain

Ouch! The sad reality is that most of us have experienced sunburn at some stage of our lives. The degree of severity varies and so does the treatment. Sunburn usually sneaks up on us as we are more often than not oblivious to how fast UVA/UVB rays start ‘singing’ our bodies…. (a rather disturbing concept when you think about it).

There are two degrees of sunburn: first degree and second degree. First degree sunburn damages the skins outer layer and will normally heal by itself within a matter of days and presents itself in the following ways:

  • Skin turns pink or red
  • Skin is hot to touch
  • The skin feels tight and tingly
  • Sometimes swelling and blistering occurs
  • The skin can peel after a few days
  • Soreness
  • Skin is sensitive to scratch and touch

Other systems can include dehydration and headaches, fatigue and nausea. There are a number of ways to treat first degree sunburn, including:

  • Applying cool towels to the affected area
  • Take paracetamol or nurofen
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Apply aftersun creams or aloe vera 
  • Take a cool bath or shower
  • Avoid further sun exposure

Second degree sunburn damages the outer skin layer and also the layer beneath called the Dermis. This takes much longer to heal and may require medical attention. The signs of second degree sunburn usually include:

  • Pain and soreness
  • Deep red skin with often a white discolouration
  • Swelling and blisters and sometimes infection
  • Much longer to heal
  • Scarring
  • Feeling hot and shivery
  • Slurred speech
  • Tiredness
  • Fever 
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • A higher chance of long term damage
  • Heat stroke

The same initial treatment applies for second degree sunburn as for first degree sunburn plus possible medical treatment. Special burn-bandages and dressings may be required as well as anti-seizure or muscle relaxing medication. People may also require hospitalisation if they develop severe heat stroke or infection. 

It has been reported that around 50% of high school boys and 60% of high school girls have experienced sunburn in the previous 12 months. This is an alarming figure and unfortunately means that 2 out of 3 of these kids will experience longer term skin damage, like skin cancer or melanoma.   

To prevent sunburn it is best to stay out of the sun from the hours of 10am to 2pm each day, apply SPF 50 regularly, wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing and if you are outside, don’t stay out there for extended periods of time. Seek shade where you can and drink plenty of water.


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