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Category

Burn Care

What Causes Sunburn

You already know the simple explanation behind sunburn. When your skin is exposed to the sun for a period of time, eventually it burns, turning red and irritated.

Under the skin, things get a little more complicated. The sun gives off three wavelengths of ultraviolet light:

  • UVA
  • UVB
  • UVC

UVC light doesn’t reach the Earth’s surface. The other two types of ultraviolet light not only reach your beach towel, but they penetrate your skin. Skin damage is caused by both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunburn is the most obvious sign that you’ve been sitting outside for too long. But sun damage isn’t always visible. Under the surface, ultraviolet light can alter your DNA, prematurely aging your skin. Over time, DNA damage can contribute to skin cancers, including deadly melanoma.

How soon a sunburn begins depends on:

  • Your skin type
  • The sun’s intensity
  • How long you’re exposed to the sun

A blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman sunbathing in Rio de Janeiro will redden far sooner than an olive-complexioned woman sitting out on a sunny day in New York City.

Signs of Sunburn

When you get a sunburn, your skin turns red and hurts. If the burn is severe, you can develop swelling and sunburn blisters. You may even feel like you have the flu — feverish, with chills, nausea, headache, and weakness.

A few days later, your skin will start peeling and itching as your body tries to rid itself of sun-damaged cells.

Sunburn Relief
Sunburn treatment is designed to attack the burn on two fronts — relieving reddened, inflamed skin while easing pain. Here are a few home remedies for sunburn:

Compresses. Apply cold compresses to your skin or take a cool bath to soothe the burn.

Creams or gels. To take the sting out of your sunburn, gently rub on a cream or gel containing ingredients such as:

Menthol
Camphor
Aloe

Refrigerating the cream first will make it feel even better on your sunburned skin.

NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen, can relieve sunburn swelling and pain all over your body.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and other fluids so that you don’t become dehydrated.

Avoid the sun. Until your sunburn heals, stay out of the sun.

You may be able to treat the sunburn yourself. But call for a doctor’s help if you notice any of these more serious sunburn signs:

Fever of 102 degrees or higher
Chills
Severe pain
Sunburn blisters that cover 20% or more of your body
Dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness, and fatigue, which are signs of dehydration

Preventing Sunburn
Here are some tips for keeping your skin safe when you’re outside:

Watch the clock. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you can’t stay indoors during that block of time, at least stick to shady spots.

Wear the right clothes. When you have to be outdoors, wear sun-protective clothing, such as:

A broad-brimmed hat
A long-sleeved shirt and pants
UV-blocking sunglasses
Use sunscreen. Cover any exposed areas of skin liberally with at least 1 ounce of broad-spectrum sunscreen. That means sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

The sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Follow these tips for applying sunscreen:

Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go outside.
Use sunscreen even on overcast days because UV rays can penetrate clouds.
Reapply sunscreen every two hours — or more often if you’re sweating heavily or swimming.

 

For minor burns:

  • Cool the burn to help soothe the pain. Hold the burned area under cool (not cold) running water for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain eases. Or apply a clean towel dampened with cool tap water.
  • Remove rings or other tight items from the burned area.Try to do this quickly and gently, before the area swells.
  • Don’t break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a nonstick gauze bandage.
  • Apply moisturizer or aloe vera lotion or gel, which may provide relief in some cases.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
  • Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.

See your doctor if you develop large blisters. Large blisters are best removed, as they rarely will remain intact on their own. Also seek medical help if the burn covers a large area of the body or if you notice signs of infection, such as oozing from the wound and increased pain, redness and swelling.

Major burns

Call 911 or emergency medical help for major burns. Until an emergency unit arrives, take these actions:

  • Protect the burned person from further harm. If you can do so safely, make sure the person you’re helping is not in contact with smoldering materials or exposed to smoke or heat. But don’t remove burned clothing stuck to the skin.
  • Check for signs of circulation. Look for breathing, coughing or movement. Begin CPR if needed.
  • Remove jewelry, belts and other restrictive items,especially from around burned areas and the neck. Burned areas swell rapidly.
  • Don’t immerse large severe burns in cold water. Doing so could cause a serious loss of body heat (hypothermia) or a drop in blood pressure and decreased blood flow (shock).
  • Elevate the burned area. Raise the wound above heart level, if possible.
  • Cover the area of the burn. Use a cool, moist, bandage or a clean cloth.

Is it a minor burn or a major burn?

If it’s not clear what level of care is needed, try to judge the extent of tissue damage, based on the following burn categories:

1st-degree burn

A first-degree burn is the least serious type, involving only the outer layer of skin. It may cause:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain

You can usually treat a first-degree burn as a minor burn. If it involves much of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint, seek emergency medical attention.

2nd-degree burn

A second-degree burn is more serious. It may cause:

  • Red, white or splotchy skin
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Blisters

If the second-degree burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter, treat it as a minor burn. If the burned area is larger or covers the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint, treat it as a major burn and get medical help immediately.

3rd-degree burns

The most serious burns involve all layers of the skin and underlying fat. Muscle and even bone may be affected. Burned areas may be charred black or white. The person may experience:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Other toxic effects, if smoke inhalation also occurred

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