Sunburn Treatment Questions and Answers
Medical attention is required for severe sunburns, so contact our team of healthcare professionals today at AFC Urgent Care Chula Vista. You can call us to book an appointment, or simply walk-in. We are open 7 days a week. We are located at 760 Otay Lakes Rd Chula Vista, CA 91910 Near Eastlake.
What is a sunburn exactly?
Sunburns are the red skin that shows up as a result of exposure to the sun and may also be painful and hot to the touch. It can take a few hours after exposure to the ultraviolet rays for the sunburn to appear in some cases, so people don’t realize they have a sunburn until it is too late. Sunburns aren’t just cause by exposure to the natural sun, they can also be caused by an artificial source such as the sunlamps in a tanning bed. When skin is exposed to UV light, it produces melanin faster than normal to form a layer of protection on top of the skin against the UV rays. Melanin is a pigment that determines a person’s skin tone and is found in the outer layer of the skin. When melanin production increases, it causes the skin to tan, and the tanned skin provides a layer of protection against the UV rays to prevent sunburn. However, this layer can only provide so much natural protection, and when the skin is exposed to more UV light than the melanin can protect against, it will cause the skin to form a sunburn.
What are the degrees of sunburn?
Sunburns, like other burns, are classified into 3 different buckets, characterized by the depth and severity of the damage that the sunburn causes to the skin.
- The first and least severe classification is first-degree sunburn. The epidermis, which is the outermost skin layer, is the only layer affected by sun damage in the case of a first-degree burn. This sunburn will heal naturally within a week and transition to a tan as the sunburnt skin naturally flakes off.
- The middle classification is second-degree sunburn which effects not only the epidermis, but also the layers of skin tissue below the epidermis, referred to as the dermis. This is where the sweat and oil glands, capillaries, hair follicles and nerve endings are all housed and can get damaged by a second-degree sunburn. This sunburn takes a few weeks to fully heal as the damage goes deeper under the skin’s surface and takes longer to flake off.
- The final and most severe classification of sunburn is third-degree sunburn which causes the most damage below the skin. The damage from a third-degree sunburn impacts the deeper tissues below the skin, and healing can take several months to several years. While rare, people can potentially lose the body part affected by a third-degree sunburn.
How do you know if a sunburn is serious?
Sunburns have a delayed response time as they typically appear within a few hours of exposure to the sun. Even still, it can take a day or so for the full sunburn to really be seen and felt, including any damage it has caused. At home treatment for mild to moderate sunburns can be achieved with the use of over-the-counter soothing gels, creams and lotions available for purchase at most drug stores, specifically formulated to provide relief for sunburns. However, sunburns that penetrate deep below the skin will require medical attention and treatment. It takes up to a week or so for mildly sunburnt skin to heal as the burnt skin will dry out and flake away to reveal fresh, healthy, non-sunburned skin underneath. The new skin will appear tanned or can appear slightly sunburnt compared to your natural skin tone but even this will fade over time as the outer layers of skin naturally renew and flake away. Medical attention is required for severe sunburns where the skin has blistered and swollen, without visible improvement showing over the course of several days, to minimize the risk of infection and ensure the skin is in fact healing.
Should I visit urgent care for a sunburn?
Medical attention needs to be sought out for sunburns under the classification of third-degree sunburns, as well as severe second-degree sunburns. The doctor will examine your sunburn to see if there are any signs of infection or potential areas that could be at risk of infection. They can provide treatment options to help manage the pain, reduce swelling and minimize the damage to the deeper tissue layers. Getting checked for signs of sunstroke or heat stroke is also important as these can occur during prolonged exposure to the sun in the same outdoor time that caused the severe sunburn. Early diagnosis of these conditions can help reduce the chance of severe complications and damage to the internal organs by getting treatment right away.
Urgent medical attention is needed if:
- Your sunburn covers a large area of your body, or the skin is blistering in any way.
- You have blisters appearing on the hands, face or genitals.
- There is severe swelling.
- You have signs of an infection such as pain, pus or red streaks associated with an open blister.
- You are experiencing a fever over 103 degrees.
- You are feeling confused, dehydrated or have experienced any fainting.
These are symptoms of heat stroke that can be very dangerous to your health if not treated as early as possible. If you have serious symptoms of a sunburn, then do not wait to get medical attention – have it looked after right away. We encourage you to contact us through the pages on our website as we care about your health and well-being. AFC Urgent Care Chula Vista is open 7 days a week and we accept walk-ins