When the skin is overexposed to the UV radiations from the sun, it turns red and painful to touch. Irritation and subsequent dehydration are common complaints of a sunburn. In very severe conditions, blisters and swelling may also appear. After few days of sunburn, the skin begins to heal itself by getting rid of damaged skin cells that were exposed to UV radiations. The skin starts peeling off and itching during this period of time, and the affected individual should visit the doctor immediately to prevent certain complications of sunburn, especially in small children.
Sunburn is a fairly common problem, and an estimated 50% of individuals aged 18 to 29 get a sunburn at least once a year. It is actually an inflammation of the skin cells caused by harmful Ultraviolet rays from the sun. There are 3 main types of ultraviolet rays, and some of them are known to cause skin burns. Ultraviolet A rays affect the deeper layers of the skin; Ultraviolet B rays affect outer layers of the skin. Finally, ultraviolet C rays do not reach the skin, so they are not harmful to humans. Headache, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse and rapid breathing are some other warning signs and symptoms of a sunburn.
1) Skin manifestations
Sunburn is an inflammatory resulting from prolonged exposure to sunray and characterized by reddening of the skin, which may be painful on touch. It is caused by a dilation of the vessels in the skin, which is followed by massive infiltration by white blood cells, predominantly lymphocytes. UV-B rays affect the superficial layers of the skin and cause hydrolysis of the phospholipids in the cell membrane of the keratinocytes (skin cells). Many other inflammatory mediators are released, and they are responsible for the subsequent itching and irritation of the skin.
Reddening of the skin occurs after 24 hours of the exposure, and the skin would usually begin to itch after 48 hours. Pain usually starts within 6 hours but relieves after 48 hours. In severe conditions, blisters formation takes place afterward. Blisters are formed by the skin as a protective mechanism to speed up the healing process. It is highly advised not to break those blisters as it can slow down the healing process and lead to scar formation. Blisters may be filled with pus or a clear fluid. UV-A rays are less intense, but they penetrate deeper in the skin and cause scarring, wrinkling, and sagging of the skin. Skin cancer is the most concerning complication of sunburn. Risk of skin infection is moderately increased in patients of sunburn because the protective layers of epidermis and dermis are damaged by the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
3 days after the sunburn, the skin starts to flake and peel, and this process usually lasts for 6-7 days. Contacting with your doctor is highly advisable in case of severe blister formation, as it can lead to dehydration and other complications. Fair-skinned people are prone to developing more skin manifestations after a sunburn because they have far less melanin in their skin, a substance that darkens the skin and helps to protect against damaging UV rays. In addition, people living at high altitude are also at increased risk of developing sunburn. Sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing are great protective mechanisms to prevent sunburn and its complications.