Summer Care: Treating Sunburns and Knowing the Risks

For many, the summer means beach trips, vacations, and family fun, but the season can also bring insects, rashes, asthma attacks, sunburns, and more.

While we’re not here to ruin anyone’s good time, we *are* here to keep you safe and healthy. So, we’re providing a rundown of some summertime perils and how best to treat these conditions.

Southcoast Health reminds you to stay vigilant and to not ignore your symptoms. We are your resource for world-class care close to home, including treatment for seasonal illnesses, minor injuries, and more.

Treating a Sunburn

We’ve all done it – spent too much time outdoors without wearing sunscreen to return home several hours later with a painful sunburn. However, sunburns can hurt you in many ways. The risk goes far beyond any short-term redness, pain, and discomfort because after the sunburn fades, lasting damage may persist.

Years of overexposure to the sun may lead to:

  • Premature wrinkling, aging of the skin, and age spots
  • Eyes becoming red, dry, painful, and feel gritty
  • Heightened risk of skin cancer

Sunburn essentially accelerates skin aging and is the reason for most cases of skin cancer(s); squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma, the most life-threatening form of skin cancer.

Remember, sunburns are not immediately visible. Symptoms usually start about 4 hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24-36 hours, and resolve in 3-5 days.

Symptoms may include:

  • Red, warm, and tender skin
  • Swollen skin
  • Blistering
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

The pain from sunburn is worse 6 to 48 hours after sun exposure. Skin peeling usually begins 3 to 8 days after exposure.

There is no immediate remedy for minor sunburn. However, the following remedies may help alleviate pain and discomfort: 

  • Symptoms can be treated with aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain and headache and reduce fever.
  • Drinking plenty of water helps to replace fluid losses.
  • Cool baths or the gentle application of cool, wet cloths on the burned area may also provide comfort.
  • Workers with sunburns should avoid further exposure until the burn has resolved.
  • Additional symptomatic relief may be achieved by applying a topical moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1% hydrocortisone cream.
  • A low-dose (0.5%-1%) hydrocortisone cream sold over the counter, may help reduce the burning sensation and swelling and speed up healing.

If blistering occurs:

  • Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection.
  • The blisters should not be broken, as this will slow the healing process and increase infection risk.
  • When the blisters break and the skin peels, dried fragments may be removed, and an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may be applied.

Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Severe sunburns covering more than 15% of the body
  • Dehydration
  • High fever (>101°F)
  • Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours

Your skin will heal, but real harm has been done. Repeat sunburns throughout your life put you at risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging.

At our locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Southcoast Health offers the latest screening and treatment technology for melanoma skin cancer. Depending on your diagnosis of melanoma or other skin cancer types, our doctors will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your needs.

We offer an extensive list of MA and RI treatment options for skin cancer, including chemotherapyradiation therapy, and surgery. Schedule an appointment with a skin cancer specialist at one of our Cancer Centers or contact us today.