A severe sunburn can cause significant damage to the skin and lead to serious health problems. Learn about the warning signs of a severe sunburn and when to seek medical treatment to prevent complications such as dehydration, infections, and even skin cancer.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for a Severe Sunburn: Warning Signs

Warning Signs of a Severe Sunburn that Require Medical Attention

Sunburns occur from exposure to the sun’s UV rays or UV light from artificial sources. You can usually treat first- and second-degree sunburns at home. Third-degree sunburns are very rare but need emergency treatment. A sunburn can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer. You can lessen your risk of sunburn by taking steps to protect your skin.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is skin damage from too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV light from artificial sources such as tanning beds can also burn your skin. A sunburn is actually a radiation burn to your skin. Multiple sunburns can lead to premature skin aging and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.

You can minimize your risk of sunburn by taking steps to protect your skin. It’s important to pay attention to your sun exposure when you spend any amount of time outdoors. This guide will look into the effects of the sun, the symptoms of severe sunburn, and ultimately when to go to a hospital for a sunburn.

Common Sunburns

Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction in the skin’s outermost layers that occurs after overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and UV light sources, such as tanning salons. Sunburns visibly appear a few hours after overexposure, and their worst state would often settle 24 to 36 hours after exposure.

Those who regularly work outside in direct sunlight, play sports, or spend time outside are at higher risk of experiencing sunburns. Melanin, the pigment that gives our skin its color and defense against the sun, darkens our body’s outer layer as a method of protection. Depending on your genetics and natural melanin production, those with fairer skin tones may be more susceptible to sunburns than those with tanner skin tones.

Symptoms of a common sunburn include:

  • Redness and pain
  • Skin swelling
  • Dry, itching, and peeling skin

When to Seek Medical Treatment for a Severe Sunburn

Severe sunburns accompanied by other symptoms may indicate a more serious condition. Leaving severe sunburns untreated may worsen symptoms and slow the healing process. These burns can cause skin infections and even poor circulation to your vital organs.

When you are considering seeking emergency medical attention, it’s important to consider the presence of the following symptoms:

  • Blisters covering a large portion of your body
  • Intense pain that doesn't respond to over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Severe swelling and redness
  • Burn accompanied by blisters covering more than 20% of the body
  • Burn accompanied by a high fever, chills, or nausea
  • Signs of skin infection, such as swelling or pus
  • Yellowing or reddening blisters
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Dehydration

According to research studies conducted by the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunburns can be related to long-term damage to the skin and body. Sunburns are understood to be one of the linked causes of basal and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The sun rays that damage the skin are dangerous enough to alter the tumor-suppressing gene, which decreases the skin cells’ chances of healing before developing into cancer. Ultimately, sunburns and overexposure to the sun’s UV light put you at higher risk for skin cancers and other long-term conditions.

Treatments for a Sunburn

Oftentimes, common sunburns resolve three to five days after sun exposure without the need for immediate medical attention, and the pain that accompanies the common sunburn can be alleviated with over-the-counter pain relief medications, and hydrating topical creams, such as moisturizing lotion, aloe vera, and hydrocortisone cream. However, it is important to recognize the distinguishing signs of a common sunburn and a severe sunburn that may need a healthcare provider’s attention.

If you are visiting an emergency room to treat your severe sunburns and the accompanying symptoms, the ER physicians may address burns and blisters with medication for inflammation or medicated cream to ease the pain and speed the recovery.

Safety Precautions Against the Sun

The best way to prevent sunburn is to use broad-spectrum, water-resistance sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days. Products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher offers the best protection against the sun’s UV rays. Try wearing shirts with long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim during peak UV hours and avoid any forms of tanning.

If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. In the meantime, you can take steps to alleviate the pain and discomfort of a sunburn by:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Applying cool compresses or taking a cool bath
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Avoiding further sun exposure

Remember, prevention is always the best course of action. Protect yourself from sunburn by wearing protective clothing, using sunscreen with a high SPF, and limiting your time in the sun during peak hours.

Get Treatment From ER of Texas Emergency Centers

It is important to know the symptoms of severe sunburn and when to go to an emergency room or a hospital for sunburn. If you are suffering from severe sunburns and any other painful accompanying symptoms, seek immediate medical attention from a medical professional. Addressing your burns with a physician can help you heal quickly and prevent worsening and long-term damage.

We have 9 facilities spread across the DFW area with average wait times of less than 10 mins that are OPEN 24/7 located in Hurst, Colleyville, Frisco, Highland Village, Hillcrest, Uptown, Little Elm, Mansfield, and Texoma.