A sunburn is a burn to living tissue such as skin produced by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, commonly from the sun's rays. A similar burn can be produced by overexposure to other sources of UV such as from tanning lamps, or occupationally, such as from welding arcs. Exposure of the skin to lesser amounts of UV will often produce a suntan. Usual mild symptoms in humans and animals are red or reddish skin that is hot to the touch, general fatigue, and mild dizziness.
Sunburn can be life-threatening and is a leading cause of skin cancer. Sunburn can easily be prevented through the use of sunscreen, clothing (and hats), and by limiting solar exposure, especially during the middle of the day. The only cure for skin burn is slow healing, although skin creams can help.
Typically there is initial redness (erythema), followed by varying degrees of pain, both proportional in severity to the duration and intensity of exposure. The condition occurs when incident UV radiation exceeds the protective capacity of melanin in the skin. Concentrations of this pigment vary greatly among individuals, but in general, darker-skinned people have more melanin than those with lighter skin. Correspondingly, the incidence of sunburn among dark-skinned individuals is lower.
After the exposure, skin may turn red in 2 to 6 hours. Pain is usually most extreme 6 to 48 hours after exposure. The burn continues to develop for 24 to 72 hours occasionally followed by peeling skin in 3 to 8 days. Some peeling and itching may continue for several weeks.
Common symptoms of sunburn include tenderness, pain, edema, itching, red and/or peeling skin, rash, nausea and fever. Also, a small amount of heat is given off from the burn, giving a warm feeling to the affected area. Sunburns may be first- or second-degree burns.
Minor sunburns typically cause nothing more than slight redness and tenderness to the affected areas. In more serious cases blistering can occur. Extreme sunburns can be painful to the point of debilitation and may require hospital care.
The more critical and long-term danger posed by sunburn is an increased risk of future skin cancer, which is believed to be highly correlated.
The risk of sunburn increases with proximity to the earth's equator. It can also be increased by pharmaceutical products that sensitise some users to UV radiation. Certain antibiotics, contraceptives, and tranquillizers have this effect. People with red hair and/or freckles generally have a greater risk of sunburn than others because of their lighter skin tone.
In recent years, the incidence and severity of sunburn has increased worldwide, especially in the southern hemisphere, because of damage to the ozone layer. Ozone depletion and the seasonal ozone hole has led to dangerously high levels of UV radiation.
Potential forms of protection include wearing long-sleeved garments and wide-brimmed hats, and using an umbrella when in the sun. Minimization of sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is also recommended. Commercial preparations are available that block UV light, known as sunscreens. Sometimes called suncreens or sunblocks, they have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating, based on the sunblock's ability to reduce the radiation at the skin.
When one is exposed to any artificial source of occupational UV, special protective clothing (for example, welding helmets/shields) should be worn. Eyes should not be neglected, and wrap-around sunglasses which block UV light should also be worn. UV light has been implicated in pterygium and cataract development.
There is no immediate cure for sunburns, but the pain can be relieved by hydrating the skin. This is done by applying products containing aloe, vitamin E, or both. Do not use any products with lidocane, as it can prevent healing and damage skin. Drinking fluids can aid in hydration, and eating high protein foods will assist tissue repair. Analgesics such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) can also reduce pain.
The best treatment for most sunburns is time. Given a few weeks, they will heal. Overall, the most important aspect of sunburn care is to avoid the sun while healing, and to take precautions to prevent future burns.
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