Sun poisoning is an umbrella term which can actually refer to any of three conditions. The most generic form of sun poisoning can happen to anyone (it’s just a name for severe sunburn), while the other two conditions, polymorphous light eruption (PLME), and solar urticaria (sun allergy) are less common. All three conditions may be characterized by a rash, so it’s important to try to figure out which condition you may have, especially if the rash recurs. With all three forms of sun poisoning, rashes may be characterized by skin redness and blistering. If you also have small bumps or dense clusters of bumps on your body, however, or hives on your arms, lower legs or chest (or other parts of your body), you may have PLME. Blisters and wheals may also be indicative of solar urticaria. Each of these three types is also accompanied by other symptoms, which may help you to identify which form of poisoning you are experiencing.
How do you treat a sun poisoning rash? The first thing you need to do is get out of the sun. Once you’ve done that, immediately apply cool compresses or take a cool shower or bath (not cold). Get yourself hydrated and drink some extra liquids for the next few days. If you are experiencing pain, you can alleviate it with ibuprofen. Treat the surface of your skin using a moisturizer such as aloe gel. Avoid sun exposure until your rash has healed. Make sure to cover up when you go outside.
If your rash is due to PLME, chances are you still may not need to seek medical treatment. PLME rashes usually resolve themselves within about a week and a half. If your condition is particularly severe, however, you may need medical attention. If you have solar urticaria, you may find that antihistamines help you to alleviate and prevent your symptoms. If your rash is particularly painful or you have excessive swelling or blistering, you should seek medical attention.
It’s possible that products you are using are making you more susceptible to developing sun poisoning rashes. Some examples of products which might be making your condition worse include acne medications, antidepressants, antibiotics, diuretics, birth control pills, heart drugs, or topical medications such as antibacterial or antifungal creams or ointments. Some fragrances may also make you more susceptible to sunlight. You may try discontinuing use of optional products; if you think a medication may be causing you to develop rashes in the sun, talk to your doctor about your concerns. Don’t quit using the medication unless your doctor says it is all right and an alternative treatment plan is decided upon, otherwise your other conditions could worsen.
Sun poisoning rashes are annoying and sometimes painful, but most of the time they can resolve on their own if you take care of yourself. In rare cases you may need to see a doctor. The prognosis is generally very positive, though, and this is rarely a serious condition.