Doctors Explain What Happens to Your Body After a Sunburn

Doctors Explain What Happens to Your Body After a Sunburn


Sunburn is a condition that is all too common for many beachgoers or people who work in the sun all day. Human skin is susceptible to the sun, and it doesn’t take long for a nice tan to turn into an uncomfortable burn. Despite this being common knowledge, many people don’t take the proper precautions when they’re out in the sun.

It’s important to realize that getting burned from the sun has more consequences than a toasty red tan. Many people aren’t aware of the damage they can’t see. In this article, doctors explain precisely what happens to the body after getting burned from the sun.

What is Sunburn?

Most people know that sunburn is when your skin gets burned from the sun. However, there is a little more to it than that. The sun is not the culprit in this situation. Ultraviolet radiation, more commonly called UV light, from the sun, is what causes the burn.

Since UV light is the real issue, this means that people can even get burned on cloudy days or cold days. Indeed, the American Medical Association published a study done on the effects of UV light on skiers and snowboarders because UV light can still be high during snowy conditions.

Symptoms of Sunburn

sunburnOne of the biggest problems with getting sunburnt is that the symptoms don’t show up until after the damage occurs. The symptoms could take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to show up. That’s why people need to protect themselves, to begin with. Symptoms can include:

  • Pink or red skin that is hot to the touch
  • Inflammation
  • Blistering (probably with pus)
  • Being extremely thirsty
  • Peeling or flaky skin
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Painful eyes that may feel gritty

The symptoms of the condition can dramatically change the appearance of the skin and make a person feel miserable. They may want to hide indoor for a few days or even weeks, depending on how severe the burn is.

Unfortunately, these symptoms are not the worst that happens to the body when it’s burned. The worst is what lies beneath the epidermis. According to Christopher da Fonseca, M.D., a family doctor at Baptist Health Primary Care at Kendall Breeze, the burn can be so severe that a person may require hospitalization, pain treatment, and IV fluids.

What Happens to Your Body When You Get Burned

Getting burned from the sun penetrates the skin and causes damage on the cellular level that can’t be immediately seen. The only exception to this is pigment changes in the color of your skin. In many cases, these changes can be permanent.

If you’re under the impression that this damage occurs after getting burned many times, you’d be wrong. Being burned just once exponentially increases your chances of severe skin damage and health problems. Here are some consequences that can happen from sunburn, according to doctors.

Mutated Skin Cells

According to Saira George, M.D., a dermatologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the human body is remarkably resilient and efficient at repairing itself. However, if it gets too much radiation from UV light, the cells can become mutated and unable to heal themselves. They may die off.

The ones that don’t die off will be mutated forever because, according to Dr. George, there is no simple way to undo sun damage. These cells may become cancerous in the future (more about cancer further down).

Sun Poisoning

Some people use the term sun poisoning when they experience symptoms like dehydration, nausea, and fever from getting burned. However, the proper term is polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). It’s characterized by a reddish rash that will appear on the skin wherever it’s been exposed to UV light.

PMLE is like an allergic reaction. The scientific and medical communities haven’t discovered why PLME occurs. The good news is that it usually resolves itself and goes away on its own.

skin inflammation
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Eye Problems

The skin isn’t the only thing that suffers when you get sunburned. There are three types of UV rays, and the one that affects the eyes the most is UVB rays. Because of this, it’s essential to protect your eyes just like you protect your skin.

Ultraviolet keratitis, more commonly called photokeratitis, is a temporary condition. It can happen when your eyes are exposed to too much UV light. It can also be called welder’s arc or snow blindness. No matter what you call it, it’s an acute ocular effect that is painful.

Photokeratitis is characterized by a temporary loss of vision, tearing, redness and pain of the eyes, sensitivity to light, halos around lights, swollen eyelids, and headaches. Although the condition is temporary and usually resolves itself within 48 hours, it causes corneal cell apoptosis. This is essentially the death of cells in the eye. Repeated incidences can lead to permanent eye damage.

Other eye problems that might occur:

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the worst thing that can happen to the body when it’s overexposed to UV light. When UV light damages cells and causes mutations, the cells have a high chance of becoming cancerous.

Skin cancer is a massive problem in the United States. More people are diagnosed with it each year than any other cancer. This is such a shame since most skin cancer is preventable.

Melanoma: The Most Concerning Skin Cancer

This cancer occurs when melanocytes, the cells responsible for the melanin in your skin, begin to grow out of control. This isn’t the most lethal cancer, but it’s the most dangerous because it’s much more likely to metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) if it’s not treated early.

Skin cancer appears as dark brown or black lesions on the skin due to melanin productions. They can have blue, white, or even pink areas. They look like moles, and in fact, some moles can develop into cancer.

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