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Skin Problems

Sunburn

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

A sunburn is usually a first-degree burn that involves the outer surface of the skin. Sunburns are uncomfortable but usually are not dangerous unless they are extensive. Severe sunburns can be serious in infants and small children.

Repeated sun exposure and sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer.

Prevention

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If you are going to be in the sun for more than 15 minutes, take the following precautions:

  • Use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum" can protect the skin from the 2 types of harmful (ultraviolet) rays.

  • Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going in the sun.

  • Apply sunscreen to all the skin that will be exposed to the sun, including the nose, ears, neck, scalp, and lips. It needs to be applied evenly over the skin.

  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours while in the sun and after swimming or sweating a lot.

  • Older adults have sensitive skin and should always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 20 or higher.

  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothes and a broad-brimmed hat to shade your face.

  • Drink lots of water. Sweating helps cool the skin.

  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the burning rays are strongest.

  • Don't forget the kids. Sun exposure may be very hard on their tender skin. Teach your young children safe sun habits--hats and sunscreen--early.

Home Treatment

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  • Drink plenty of water and watch for signs of dehydration (especially in infants or children). See Dehydration. Also watch for signs of heat exhaustion. See Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.

  • Cool baths or compresses can be very soothing. Take acetamino- phen or aspirin for pain. Don't give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

  • A mild fever and headache can accompany a sunburn. Lie down in a cool, quiet room to relieve headache.

  • There is nothing you can do to prevent peeling; it is part of the healing process. Lotion can help relieve itching.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • If you develop signs of heat stroke (red, hot, dry skin; confusion). See Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.

  • If symptoms of heat exhaustion (dizziness, nausea, headache) persist after you have cooled off.

  • If there is severe blistering (over of the affected body part) with fever or if you feel very ill.

  • If you have a fever of 38.9°C (102°F) or higher.

 

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