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Sun Poisoning Symptoms

Sun Poisoning Symptoms

Sun poisoning, which is also referred to as photodermatitis, is severe form of sunburn that occurs due to overexposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. The symptoms of photodermatitis include redness, itching, blisters, rashes and also flu-like symptoms. Here's some more information on these symptoms and ways to alleviate them.
Reshma Jirage
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Sometimes, when you stay in the sunlight for a long time, you might experience itching, rashes or blisters on the skin which often turn red. You may also feel fatigued and nauseous. These signs are indicative of sun poisoning or photodermatitis, which is basically an allergic reaction or a hypersensitivity reaction that develops due to overexposure to the sun's rays. It affects the areas of skin that are most exposed to sunlight. It results from fundamental changes in the skin's capability to withstand the sunlight. It may be assuaged with certain medications or skin creams.


There are two types of sun poisoning, symptoms of which are internal and external. In the first type, there may be an external reaction to sun-rays in the form of red, bumpy skin and rashes. Several people are prone to such changes in the skin.

The second type involves heat stroke, sunstroke and heat prostration. This happens because of dehydration in the body and loss of electrolytes. The symptoms may be mild or severe, depending upon the duration of exposure, the intensity of sun-rays and your body's capacity to withstand the sun-rays.

Some of the common symptoms are:
  • Redness and tenderness of skin
  • Red skin rash
  • Itching of the skin
  • Development of very small to large, water-filled blisters
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration owing to fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance
  • Chills
Excess exposure to the sun can result in various levels of skin deterioration and damage. There may be flaking and peeling off within 4-7 days after exposure in some severe cases. In case of severe sunburn, it may lead to premature aging, wrinkle formation and even skin cancer (malignant melanoma).


Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun is the main cause. It is seen more frequently during hot summers, when the UV rays are the strongest. Light-skinned people contain very little protective melanin pigments. As a result, they are more prone to the poisoning than dark-skinned people. While overexposure to sun is the main reason behind photodermatitis, there could be other triggering factors as well. These include:

Chemicals and Drugs: The chances of photodermatitis increase when sun exposure is accompanied by the use of a variety of chemicals, drugs and cosmetics. Use of certain drugs such as sulfa-containing drugs, different tranquilizers, medication for hypertension, medication for diabetes, fungal infections and birth control pills can trigger sun poisoning. Certain chemicals found in various vegetables and fruits are also responsible for photosensitive reactions.

Cosmetics: Direct contact with certain substances such as detergents, deodorants, bar soaps, shampoos and various cosmetics and toiletries, followed by sun exposure can also lead to severe sunburn.

Treatment and Prevention

Mild symptoms generally don't require much medical attention - taking proper rest in a cool, shaded environment and consuming sufficient amounts of fluids usually provides the required relief. In case of severe symptoms, the person can try the following:-
  • A cold water bath or application of cool compress is recommended.
  • Drinking adequate amounts of water will take care of dehydration.
  • Medication such as aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen or acetaminophen are recommended to relieve any kind of pain due to sunburn.
  • Avoiding subsequent sun exposure as long as symptoms are evident is very important. Not doing so will only aggravate the condition.
  • In case of constant itching and blister formation, consult a dermatologist.
The most important preventive measure is to avoid going out into the sunlight without proper protection which would include the use of sunscreen lotions, wearing protective sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing and carrying an umbrella if possible. Use cosmetics that contain effective sun-blocking agents. If you are on medication that can trigger photodermatitis, avoid exposure to the sun as much as possible. Cover yourself as much as you can, with appropriate and lightweight clothing. Prevention is by far, the most effective remedy that can be suggested. So be careful and stay safe.