How to Treat a Severe Sunburn

May 22, 2024
How to Treat a Severe Sunburn
Sunburns may seem like an unavoidable hazard of summer, but even though they’re common, sunburns can still be serious. If you get a severe sunburn, here’s what to do to relieve painful symptoms and protect your skin.

Hawaii is famous for its beautiful beaches, warm weather, and sunny days that make island exploration fun and exciting for visitors and natives alike. Unfortunately, all that sunshine makes it easy to overindulge — and that means you can wind up with a painful sunburn.

Sunburns happen when your skin is overexposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning bed use. The overexposure damages skin cells, and your body reacts by triggering an immune response that leads to redness, discomfort, and swelling.

While some sunburns are relatively mild, others can be quite serious. In fact, of the millions of Americans who suffer sunburns every year, more than 33,000 people require emergency room visits to treat painful symptoms.

At Minit Medical Urgent Care and Physical Therapy, our expert team knows how serious sunburns can be. We offer innovative therapies for both adults and kids to relieve discomfort, speed healing, and prevent complications. If you have a severe sunburn, here’s what you can do to find relief.

Seek shade or go indoors

At the first sign of a sunburn, get out of the sun to prevent further damage. Seeking shade or going indoors is best, but if you can’t do either, you should slather on plenty of sunscreen and don protective clothing right away.

Cool your skin

Sunburn is just that — a burn. Cooling your skin helps prevent further damage while reducing discomfort. Take a cool bath or shower to help cool your skin, gently patting yourself dry afterward. 

Then, apply a moisturizer immediately to help lock in remaining moisture on your skin. Opt for a moisturizer that contains natural cooling ingredients like aloe vera gel or shea butter. Using cool compresses can help, too.

Drink plenty of water

Your skin is two-thirds water. When it sustains sun damage, it’s important to replenish fluids and keep your epidermal cells hydrated. Sunburn can also lead to dehydration by draining moisture from your skin. Keep a water bottle with you while your skin heals, and avoid caffeine and alcohol, both of which can worsen dehydration.

Use over-the-counter products

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help relieve the pain and mild swelling of a sunburn. Topical hydrocortisone creams and ointments help soothe irritation, too. Place the cream in the fridge for an hour first, and you’ll receive an added dose of coolness when you apply it. 

Protect your skin

While your skin heals, it’s important to make an extra effort to protect it from additional irritation. In addition to avoiding direct sun exposure, be sure to use moisturizer regularly. Wear a hat and sunglasses when outdoors, along with lightweight, tight-knit clothing that blocks HV light rays. And of course, be sure to apply sunscreen to exposed areas of skin every day.

Don’t pop sunburn blisters

Blisters help your skin heal and help prevent infection, too. Don’t pop them or pick at them. Instead, let them pop naturally, then cover them with an antibiotic ointment and a nonstick bandage to prevent infection and stop bleeding.

Let your skin peel naturally

Sunburns typically begin to peel within a few days as the dead skin flakes away. It might be tempting to help the process along, but don’t: Let your skin peel naturally. Don’t exfoliate or use harsh scrubs, which can damage new skin layers. 

Instead, wash your skin gently, pat it dry, and continue to apply a moisturizer. If your skin itches, an over-the-counter antihistamine may offer relief.

Seek medical care

People tend to treat sunburns casually, but the fact is, the damage done by a sunburn is no different from the damage associated with any other type of burn. 

If you have a severe burn, a burn that covers a lot of your skin, or a burn accompanied by fever, chills, dizziness, extreme pain, or vomiting, it’s important to seek emergency medical care right away. The same is true if your skin shows any signs of infection.

Your skin is your largest organ, routinely exposed to all sorts of environmental damage, including too much UV radiation. Give it the love and care it needs and deserves. To learn how we can help you recover from a severe sunburn, book an appointment online or over the phone with Minit Medical Urgent Care and Physical Therapy in Kihei, Kahului, and Lahaina, Hawaii, today.