Picture of a woman with sun poisoning looking at her sunburned shoulder.Did you accidentally spend too much time in the sun? Do your symptoms seem worse than those of a normal sunburn? If so, chances are good that you might have a condition known as sun poisoning.

Below, we explain what sun poisoning is and how it differs from heat rash. We also discuss how long sun poisoning typically lasts and what treatment might involve.

What Is Sun Poisoning?

Despite its name, sun poisoning doesn’t involve actual poison. Sun poisoning is a more common name for polymorphic light eruption, a condition that can occur when someone is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays for an extended period of time, especially if they’re not wearing sunscreen or protective clothing while outdoors. When compared to a sunburn, sun poisoning is considerably more severe.

So, what does sun poisoning look like? This condition can cause skin to redden, swell, blister, and peel. Other sun poisoning symptoms include:

  • Intense pain
  • Fever (sometimes accompanied by chills)
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Confusion

Heat Rash vs. Sun Poisoning

Also known as “miliaria,” “prickly heat,” or “sweat rash,” heat rash occurs when sweat becomes trapped within the skin, causing the development of small bumps that are usually red and itchy but can sometimes resemble clear blisters. Heat rash commonly occurs in skin folds like the armpits and elbow creases, as well as in spots where clothing rubs against skin.

Unlike sun poisoning, which typically affects skin that has been exposed to the sun, heat rash often occurs in areas covered by clothing. And unlike sun poisoning symptoms, heat rash symptoms usually resolve once the skin cools down, without the need for professional treatment.

How Long Does Sun Poisoning Last?

The duration of sun poisoning symptoms will depend on the severity of the burn. Minor cases of sun poisoning may resolve within a few days, while more severe cases can last several weeks. Compare that to mild sunburns, which usually heal within about a week.

What Does Sun Poisoning Treatment Involve?

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of sun poisoning listed above, it’s important to promptly consult with a medical professional. The goal of sun poisoning treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent complications like dehydration or infection from developing. Treatment might involve:

  • Running cool water over the skin
  • Holding a cool, wet compress against the skin
  • Applying a topical antibiotic or steroid cream
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Administering intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Taking pain medication

Especially severe cases of sun poisoning can require treatment in a hospital burn unit.

Where to Go for Sun Poisoning Treatment

If you think you might have sun poisoning but you aren’t experiencing life-threatening symptoms, turn to Jovive Health, a trusted practice offering urgent care treatment in Chicago and Lombard, Illinois; Henderson, Nevada; and Cameron Park, California. We’re open every day of the week with extended hours, and we always accept walk-ins. When you visit us for sun poisoning treatment, we’ll assess your skin, determine the extent of your burn, and administer any necessary treatments. Contact us today if you have any questions or would like to know more about our practice.