Sunburn is the term for red, sometimes swollen and painful skin. It is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Sunburn can vary from mild to severe. The extent depends on skin type and amount of exposure to the sun. Sunburn is a serious risk factor for skin cancer and for sun damage.
Because of variations in the intensity of UV radiation passing through the atmosphere, the risk of sunburn increases with proximity to the tropic latitudes. The higher the latitude, the lower the intensity of the UV rays.
On a minute-by-minute basis, the amount of UV radiation is dependent on the angle of the sun. This is easily determined by the height ratio of any object to the size of its shadow. The greatest risk is at solar noon, when shadows are at their minimum and the sun's radiation passes more directly through the atmosphere.
Regardless of one's latitude (assuming no other variables), equal shadow lengths mean equal amounts of UV radiation.
Causes of sunburn
In a more in depth definition, sunburn is a reaction of the body to the direct DNA damage which can result from the excitation of DNA by UV-B light. The damage is recognized by the body, which then triggers several defense mechanisms, including DNA repair to revert the damage and increased melanin production to prevent future damage.
Melanin transforms UV-photons quickly into harmless amounts of heat without generating free radicals, and is therefore an excellent photoprotectant against direct and indirect DNA damage.
Symptoms of sunburn
A symptom is something the patient senses and describes, while a sign is something other people, such as the doctor notice. For example, drowsiness may be a symptom while dilated pupils may be a sign.
The symptoms of sunburn vary from person to person. You may not notice redness of the skin for several hours after the burn has begun. Peak redness will take 12-24 hours. Minor sunburns typically cause nothing more than slight redness and tenderness to the affected areas. In more serious cases, blistering can occur. Extreme sunburns can be painful to the point of debilitation and may require hospital care.
Sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes, and in seconds when exposed to non-shielded welding arcs or other sources of intense ultraviolet light. Nevertheless, the inflicted harm is often not immediately obvious.
After the exposure, skin may turn red in as little as 30 minutes but most often takes 2 to 6 hours. Pain is usually most extreme 6 to 48 hours after exposure. The burn continues to develop for 24 to 72 hours occasionally followed by peeling skin in 3 to 8 days. Some peeling and itching may continue for several weeks.
A mild sunburn does not often require a visit to the doctor. However, if you have any more severe symptoms, it is critical to seek medical attention. A doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be conducted and for more severe cases of sun damage, a person may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders, or a dermatologist.
Treatments for sunburn
Treating sunburn involves activities like doing quick and effective actions to prevent further damaging of the skin. It should always be remembered that the most effective strategy for treating sunburn involves acting quickly. The earlier one starts treatment the more effective the healing process will be. Sunburn can lead to permanent skin damage and sometimes it may result in skin cancer if not treated in the right time.
Plenty of fluids, aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are one recommendation. Additional topical measures such as cool compresses, Burow solution soaks, or high-quality moisturizing creams and lotions may be prescribed.
The pain and burning associated with a sunburn can be relieved with a number of different remedies applied to the burn site. The skin can be hydrated by applying topical products containing Aloe Vera and/or vitamin E, which reduce inflammation. Hydrocortisone cream may also help reduce inflammation and itching.
People with sunburn should avoid the use of butter; this is a false remedy which can prevent healing and damage skin.
If a case is in fact severe enough, oral steroid therapy (cortisone like medications) may be prescribed for several days. However, steroid creams placed on the skin show minimal to no benefit.
If blistering is present, steroids may be withheld to avoid an increased risk of infection. If one experiences dehydration or suffering from heat stress, IV fluids will be given, and a patient may be admitted to the hospital. People with very severe cases may be transferred to a hospital's burn unit.
Recent developments on sunburn from MNT news
In this Spotlight article, we have a quick look at what sunburn is before examining ways in which this uncomfortable condition can be treated. We will also attempt to debunk some of the many popular and unhelpful myths about sunburn that are regularly circulated.
Commercial preparations are available that block UV light, known as sunscreens or sunblocks. They have a sunburn protection factor (SPF) rating, based on the sunblock's ability to suppress sunburn. Basically, the higher the SPF rating, the lower the amount of direct DNA damage.
'Slip-Slop-Slap' was a sun protection campaign marketed in Australia in the 1980s. The advice was simple - slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade or shelter, slide on some sun glasses.
A sunscreen rated as SPF 10 blocks 90% of the sunburn-causing UVB radiation; an SPF20 rated sunscreen blocks 95%. Modern sunscreens contain filters for UVA radiation as well as UVB.
Although UVA radiation does not cause sunburn, it does contribute to skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Many sunscreens provide broad-spectrum protection, meaning that they protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.
Research has shown that the best protection is achieved by application 15 to 30 minutes before exposure, followed by one reapplication 15 to 30 minutes after exposure begins. Further reapplication is only necessary after activities such as swimming, sweating, and rubbing.