When do you need to seek treatment for sunburn?

Have you ever blistered from sunburn, or wondered if you need to seek medical treatment?

Most people get sunburns. That painful tightness and red skin causes discomfort with every movement. Have you ever blistered from sunburn, or wondered if you need to seek medical treatment?

Elizabeth Doyle, M.D., internal medicine and pediatric physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Shepherdsville, answers a few questions regarding sunburns and when to seek treatment:

Who is most at risk for sunburn?

Teenagers get sunburns more often because they often choose not to use sunscreen or take breaks while in the sun. Infants are also at risk. Parents should always keep infants (under 6 months old) out of direct sunlight. Blonds, redheads and people with blue eyes and fair skin are also at an increased risk. Remember, sunburns are most likely to occur between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., so plan accordingly.

How do I tell if my sunburn is severe enough to need medical treatment?

Severe sunburn causes blisters over a large area. It may result in multiple small blisters or one large blister. If you are experiencing severe pain with headaches, vomiting, fever and/or dehydration, consider seeing a doctor. These symptoms are similar to heat exposure or heat stroke and should be taken seriously.

If your child blisters from a sunburn or experiences any of these symptoms, get medical help right away. In extreme situations, hospitalization may be necessary so that IV fluids (for dehydration) or pain-controlling medications can be administered.

If my sunburn isn’t severe but still hurts, how should I treat it?

Mild sunburns can be treated with topical creams, such as aloe, calamine lotion, compresses or a cool bath. You can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or Motrin to alleviate the discomfort. There are other nontraditional methods, such as soaking in a bath of Epsom salts or oatmeal.

Any other advice when it comes to preventing sunburns?

Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater and apply it properly (15 minutes before going outside and every two hours). It’s never a good idea to mix alcohol with outdoor activities. Alcohol impairs judgment and alters your perception of time, making you more apt to forget to reapply sunscreen.


Norton Healthcare offers 13 convenient Norton Immediate Care Center locations for the treatment of sunburn and other non-emergency health issues. Find a location close to you.


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