Differences Between Sunburn, Sun Poisoning, Heat Rash, Heat Exhaustion

by Blues Perspectives

| 2 min read

A woman applies sunblock at the beach
The summer sun is big and beautiful but it’s also dangerous. It emits powerful ultraviolet radiation that can severely damage one’s skin and hair. Excessive exposure to harmful rays has been linked to multiple illnesses, including cancer. Here are some common sun-related conditions and how to treat them:
  • Sunburn: A major sign of overexposure to UV rays is sunburn. It can range from mild to severe and is characterized by redness, tenderness and in some cases, blisters. Pain can last between 6 and 48 hours and can cause permanent damage. To treat sunburn, briefly apply cool water, a cold compress or ice to the affected area. Moisturize skin with a non-petroleum or oil-based lotion. You may also take a pain reliver such as naproxen or ibuprofen.
  • Sun Poisoning: Sun poisoning is an extreme case of sunburn that can cause internal and external symptoms. Aside from blistering skin, a person may experience headaches, nausea, dehydration and dizziness. Sun poisoning can last for days or even weeks depending on the amount of exposure. A doctor may treat the condition with a cold compress, oral steroids, lotions, or topical antibiotics.
  • Heat Rash: In hot or humid weather, the skin’s pores can become clogged with sweat. When this occurs, perspiration is trapped causing an eruption on the surface called heat rash. It can develop in high-friction areas like underarms, elbow creases, and inner thighs. Heat rash can be treated with over-the-counter remedies such as calamine lotion, aloe vera, and ointment.
  • Heat Exhaustion: This condition is caused by heavy sweating and a loss of water and vital electrolytes. A person becomes dehydrated and the body can no longer regulate its temperature. Noticeable symptoms include lightheadedness, thirst, increased heart rate, weakness, shallow breathing, and a reddish face. Individuals should immediately find a cool, shaded area and rehydrate. They should also cover their face with a cold, wet cloth or take a cool shower.
Infographic explaining sun-related conditions
It only takes 15 minutes for skin to be damaged by UV radiation. Monitor for pinkish discoloration, as it can be an early sign of sunburn or sun poisoning. Also watch out for fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth and less-frequent urination, which can be symptoms of dehydration or other heat-related illnesses. Always wear sunscreen--a protective lotion that absorbs and reflects UV rays. For ample coverage, choose broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher. Remember, sunscreen wears off and must be reapplied every two hours, as well as after swimming, sweating, or towel drying. Read more:
Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Blues Perspectives

Jul 29, 2021 at 5:58pm

Hi Claudette. We hope you feel better. We’re glad to hear that you’re taking steps to stay hydrated and hope the article helped inform your recovery!

Blues Perspectives

Jul 28, 2021 at 7:18pm

We're glad that you found this helpful Ysette! Thank you for reading.

Claudette Kay

Jul 14, 2021 at 6:14am

I'm experiencing the result of sun poisoning. I don't think I've ever felt so unwell. There is slight pain and itching, headache, nausea and sleepless nights. I'm staying hydrated and taking Gatorade to replace electrolytes. I've been inside two weeks now. The heat wave has me in until late evening. Never want to go thru this again.


Jul 4, 2021 at 2:12am

This helped me a lot

Blues Perspectives

Nov 11, 2020 at 4:30pm

Glad we could help, Robert! - Candice

MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association