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How a Sunburn Can Land You in the Emergency Room

June 08, 2018

Woman applying sunscreen
The end of the school year is here once again, signaling the start of another long, humid Indiana summer. We all know that before sending your children outside that they should apply sunscreen, yet sunburns are responsible for tens of thousands of visits to the emergency room every year.

So, whether your kids are in a summer league or just love spending all day out by the pool, here are some helpful tips to know before letting them out in the sun.

How to Treat

Although it only takes 15 minutes for a sunburn to develop, symptoms may not appear until 6 to 12 hours after exposure. If you notice your child’s skin is turning red or starting to swell, get them out of the sun immediately. Try to cool down the burn with a quick cold bath, compresses or aloe vera lotion. Avoid applying ice directly on the skin or using harsh soaps. When the skin is still damp, moisturize gently with lotion. Ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin can help relieve pain, swelling and inflammation. Most important of all, make sure they drink plenty of water to rehydrate their skin.

Not all sunburns can be treated at home. More severe burns may require topical antibiotics and gauze coverings for blisters. Seek medical attention if you or your child are experiencing:

  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Severe blistering over a larger portion of the body
  • Signs of infection, such as increasing pain or yellow pus

How to Prevent

In the short term, sunburns can be painful, causing nausea, blisters and even infections. However, in the long term, ongoing exposure to UV rays can lead to premature wrinkles, sun spots and skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, just five sunburns can double your risk for melanoma.[1] But it can easily be prevented by being more careful in the sun:

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 every day, even when it’s cloudy. For extended outdoor activity, use water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to the entire body 30 minutes before going outside. “Remember areas of the body such as the tops of feet, ears, hands, and scalp that are often missed and easily burned,” says Chelsea Hodgson, a paramedic for St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating. “Although sunscreen is water-resistant,” Hodgson says, “it is advised to reapply after water activities because it is can be wiped off when you dry off with a towel.”
  • Stay out of the sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the rays are the strongest.
  • When your kids are out in the sun, have them wear hats and lightweight long-sleeved shirts.
  • Know that you are at higher-risk for sunburns if you are fair-skinned, are exposed to sunlight reflecting off sand or water, or take certain antibiotics.

If your kids are at the neighborhood park or just playing in the backyard, St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital provides quick, streamlined emergency care close to you. Our emergency room is staffed with emergency-trained physicians and nurses, ready to treat burns, infections, bug bites and any other situations that may arise this summer.

Find the St. Vincent Neighborhood Hospital location nearest you.