Q: I've heard about sun poisoning but don't know what it is. Is this something I can easily get? How do I prevent it?
A: The term "sun poisoning" is a bit misleading as it implies you've been poisoned by the sun, when in fact sun poisoning is actually a very severe sunburn. This can happen from being out in the sun too long, not wearing sunscreen or perhaps forgetting to take extra precautions if you're at an increased risk for sunburn.
Those at risk for sun poisoning include people with fair skin, people who have relatives with a history of skin cancer and people taking antibiotics, oral contraceptives or some herbal supplements. Applying citrus oils to the skin before sun exposures and using skin products containing alpha hydroxyl acids, such as chemical peels, can increase your chances of sun poisoning.
If you think you have sun poisoning, you need to be treated immediately. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms in addition to the severe sunburn. You may need intravenous fluids along with steroid creams and oral steroids for blistering, swelling and pain, as well as antibiotics.
Of course prevention is the best course of action. Use sunscreen daily, and reapply frequently when outside. Wear hats and light cotton clothing while outside. If you can, avoid being out in the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the UV rays are the strongest.
Dr. Christopher Lowe is a specialist in dermatology at Galen Medical Group and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.