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How do I Treat a Severe Sunburn?

Sara Schmidt
By
Updated Feb 26, 2024
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Several severe sunburn remedies, such as cold compresses and medication, are available to help ease the suffering associated with sunburn pain and symptoms. To treat a severe sunburn, a cool bath or an application of cold water by towel is often recommended. Over the counter products, such as Aloe Vera gel, can also be used.

Since time is the primary healer of sunburn, the heart of a severe sunburn treatment is pain relief. The most natural and often recommended means of relief is through the application of a cold compress to keep the skin cool and moisturized. One way to do this is mixing a combination of equal parts cold water and milk. Gauze or a clean cloth can be soaked in this solution and then applied to the skin every 15 minutes as needed.

Cool baths can also help alleviate sunburn pain. Adding an oatmeal remedy to the water, whether homemade or bought in a pharmacy, can often help provide relief. During the bath, cosmetic products and soaps that could cause skin irritation should be avoided.

One can expect a severe sunburn to last from five to ten days. While treating severe sunburn, people should refrain from actively peeling off the skin as it heals. Loose skin should be allowed to fall off the body in order to prevent possible further damage. Any blisters present should not be poked, but covered with gauze instead. Breaking these blisters open can increase the body's risk of infection.

Following a severe sunburn, the person affected should remain out of the sunlight to prevent further damage as well as to lessen the pain. Over the counter painkillers may be taken as directed to manage discomfort. Both oral medications as well as spray-on treatments may be used. A physician can be consulted in order to determine an appropriate medication and dosage.

If the sunburn is very severe, a physician may need to be consulted. When severe sunburn includes a large area of the body or is accompanied by many blisters, the bearer should definitely see a doctor. Severe pain, lack of improvement within a few days, and fever are other symptoms that warrant the advice of a physician as they could indicate sun poisoning, a potentially dangerous condition.

In order to avoid future severe sunburn, many preventative actions can be taken. Sunscreen can be an effective tool in preventing sunburn when used as directed. Wearing light clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and spending time in the shade can be helpful as well. It is also recommended to stay out of the sun during the middle of the day, when sunlight is the most direct.

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Sara Schmidt
By Sara Schmidt , Writer
With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.

Discussion Comments

By Pippinwhite — On Jan 28, 2014

Don't ever hesitate to call a doctor for a really bad sunburn. Sun poisoning is absolutely no fun. I had a friend who was on a mission trip and was on the boat going back to the mainland. Her face and torso were in the shade, but her legs were in the sun. She fell asleep and when the boat docked about five hours later, she was cooked. She had to go to the hospital and when she got back to school had to wear shorts because she couldn't wear jeans. Her legs looked like fried chicken.

I've found that for a less severe case, Aleve or Advil help. These are anti-inflammatory drugs and they really do give some relief. Put the aloe vera gel in the fridge for an hour or so before putting it on the sunburn. It's the best treatment, and when it goes on cold, it's almost painful because it feels so good.

Wear sunscreen. The best way to treat a severe sunburn is to prevent one.

Sara Schmidt

Sara Schmidt

Writer

With a Master's Degree in English from Southeast Missouri State University, Sara Schmidt puts her expertise to use by writing for WiseGeek, plus various magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She published her own novella and has other literary projects in the works. Sara's diverse background includes teaching children in Spain, tutoring college students, running CPR and first aid classes, and organizing student retreats, reflecting her passion for education and community engagement.
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