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Most of the time, sunburns are first-degree burns of the outer layer of skin. The first sign of a sunburn is the skin turning red. The red skin can hurt when touched. These sunburns are mild and can be treated at home.

Skin that is red and painful and that swells up and blisters indicates a more severe sunburn and might be a second-degree burn. Most of these sunburns can also be treated at home but can be more serious if other problems are present.

Usually, sunburn symptoms continue to get worse in the first 24 to 36 hours after the sunburn. Sunburns start to go away over 3 to 5 days. Severe sunburns can be serious in babies, small children, and older adults because of their sensitive skin and their high risk for other problems.

The term sun poisoning means a sunburn is severe enough to cause a whole-body reaction, which might include a fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and a headache.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised September 1, 2011

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