Sun poisoning is an allergic skin reaction that occurs after exposure to sunlight. Symptoms are similar to sunburn but may include fever, hives, and nausea.

Sun poisoning is similar to sunburn, which makes it difficult to identify correctly in some cases.

Sometimes referred to as photodermatitis, sun poisoning is a relatively unknown and uncommon condition. However, it can have serious and long-term complications if not treated properly.

This article explores the causes and symptoms of sun poisoning, and how to treat and prevent it.

There are a number of different symptoms associated with sun poisoning. The most common and obvious symptom is a reaction on the skin.

It may look and feel similar to an allergic reaction and is characterized by the following symptoms:

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Sun poisoning is characterized by symptoms similar to an allergic reaction.
  • Itchiness, bumps, or blisters: The skin may become itchy, and bumps or blisters may appear on the affected area.
  • Pain and swelling: The affected area of skin may be painful, and can have the appearance of eczema lesions. The skin may be red or swollen, as well.
  • Darkening of the skin: In some cases, the skin affected may become darker. This is known as hyperpigmentation.

Another group of symptoms include:

These symptoms can be mistaken for the flu or similar viral conditions.

Sun poisoning may be linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.

There are acute and chronic variations of sun poisoning. Acute sun poisoning is when symptoms are relatively mild and temporary and pass with treatment.

Chronic sun poisoning is characterized by serious symptoms that are ongoing. It can be difficult to prevent and to treat some cases of chronic sun poisoning, making medical advice essential.

Sun poisoning and sunburn are very similar conditions. It is possible to mistake the more serious and long-lasting condition of sun poisoning for sunburn.


Sunburn can occur when skin has been exposed to direct sunlight for a long time.

The symptoms of sunburn include redness of the skin, which can be warm to the touch. The skin may also be itchy, and begin to peel after some time.

Sunburn usually fades after a while. In extreme cases, the sunburn can be accompanied by fever and nausea. Sunburn can affect anyone who is exposed to sunlight for too long.

Sun poisoning

The main difference between sun poisoning and sunburn is that the former is a type of allergic reaction. It occurs when the skin has been exposed to strong UV light for too long.

Whilst the symptoms of sunburn are usually present in cases of sun poisoning, they are usually more severe and last for longer.

Other symptoms may be present as well, including:

Sun poisoning does not affect everyone. Some people will be more likely to develop sun poisoning than others.

Diagnoses from a medical professional is recommended if symptoms of sunburn are severe or long-lasting. It may be that the condition is actually sun poisoning, which requires different treatment.

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People who work outdoors have an increased risk of sunburn and sun poisoning.

There are many possible causes for sun poisoning, although in some cases there is no known cause.

In some cases, a pre-existing condition may be what starts it. For example, eczema and lupus can make the skin more sensitive to light, increasing the risk of sun poisoning.

Similarly, some medication can increase the skin’s sensitivity to light, as can contact with certain chemicals.

Also, a genetic predisposition or dietary deficiency can increase the chance of developing sun poisoning.

Groups at high risk of developing sun poisoning include those with fair skin, light-colored hair, and blue or green-colored eyes. This is regardless of race or ethnicity.

People who spend extended periods in direct sunlight also have an increased risk. In cases where employment requires outdoor work, this can be considered an occupational hazard. Employers should acknowledge such risks in order to prevent employees from developing sun poisoning at work.

Treating sun poisoning involves focusing on the specific symptoms. Getting medical advice is always recommended when treating sun poisoning.


Applying clean, damp dressing to erupted blisters or open wounds can help them to heal. This also reduces the risk of infection.

Light therapy

In some situation, light therapy may be required. Sometimes known as phototherapy, this involves exposing the skin to certain wavelengths of light.

This controlled light can help to slow the growth of damaged skin cells. Light therapy may help to relieve pain and manage symptoms.

Drug therapy

In some cases, a treatment including drugs may be needed. This is uncommon and is usually only recommended for those who are highly sensitive to light.

Drug therapies for sun poisoning may be recommended if light therapy is not an option. Both short-term and long-term drug treatments are available.

Dietary changes

Sun poisoning can be treated with dietary changes.

The benefits of nutritional therapy for sun poisoning are not well studied. However, it is known that a diet with all the essential vitamins and minerals can help to reduce the risk of photosensitivity.

Prevention of sun poisoning

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Using sun lotion regularly can help prevent sunburns and sun poisoning.

The ways of preventing sun poisoning are similar to those for preventing sunburn:

  • Reduce exposure: Avoiding prolonged exposure to intense sunlight is recommended. This could include, covering exposed skin with clothing, wearing a hat, or staying in the shade where possible.
  • Use sun lotion: Applying sun lotion to exposed skin is recommended. A higher factor sun cream will provide greater protection for the skin, and will be more effective at reducing the risk of sun poisoning.
  • Be aware of side effects of medication: Some types of medication may increase sensitivity to sunlight. It is important to be aware if any medication increases the risk of sun poisoning.
  • Avoid tanning beds: Use of tanning beds is not recommended, and most medical experts will advise avoiding them.

In most cases of sun poisoning, the condition will pass with time and self-care. However, in some instances, seeing a doctor is recommended.

If the affected area of skin is large or covers several parts of the body, it is recommended that medical advice is sought.

Even when the sun poisoning is mild, seeking a doctor’s opinion can ensure that it is treated properly. This can prevent complications, and ease symptoms faster.