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6 Silent Signs Your Sunburn Is Actually Sun Poisoning

Too much sun can do more than turn your skin red or brown. It can actually make you sick.

By Alyssa Jung

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You feel like you have the fluIrina Bg/Shutterstock

Summer isn’t exactly flu season, so if you feel achy or have other flu-like symptoms after a long day in the sun, you (and not a virus) may be to blame. “When the skin is damaged by UV rays, it releases chemicals that basically turn on the immune system and make you feel terrible like you’ve got the flu,” says John Anthony, MD, dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Sun poisoning isn’t technically poisoning, it’s a layperson term for a super severe sunburn that has systemic effects. So, when you turn the corner from uncomfortable redness to a deep rouge so severe it triggers an immune response that makes you feel sick, that’s a sign you’ve had way too much.

Your skin pricklesAlbina Glisic/Shutterstock

An ordinary sunburn is far from comfortable to the touch, but sun poisoning even more so. If your body is covered in a prickly sensation or you want to scream every time a hand or shirt brushes against your skin, it could be a sign your sunburn is on the very severe side. Apply soothing aloe, take a cool shower, apply cold compresses, or pop an ibuprofen to relieve the pain.

You feel dizzy or lightheadedfizkes/Shutterstock

“A lot of these symptoms can be caused by a combination of too much sun and dehydration,” says Dr. Anthony. If your head feels off, you feel nauseous or vomit, or you have a headache, drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate your body, lay down and rest, and see if you feel better.

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You have a fevereldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

A fever is a sign something’s not right with your body. If your temperature spikes once you’re out of the sun and you feel generally unwell, play it safe and call your doctor or head to urgent care. “If you feel noticeably ill or have a fever and chills, it’s a good idea to see or call a doctor. Better safe than sorry,” says Dr. Anthony. Next time you spend time outside, be extra vigilant about applying a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF about 30 minutes before heading out, and be sure to reapply at least every two hours and every time you get out of the water. Protect yourself by avoiding these other sunscreen mistakes.

Your skin blistersSunyawitPhoto/Shutterstock

Blistering of the skin is a very bad sign. Not only does this mean you’ll likely be in some serious pain until they heal, you’re also at risk for infection if germs and bacteria get into open wounds. Apply aloe, which Dr. Anthony says he uses to treat severe burns, take an anti-inflammatory to combat the physical pain, and stay out of the sun until they’ve fully healed. “If someone has severe blistering on the hands or face, you should get looked at by a doctor, just in case,” he says.

You fall asleep in the sunMaridav/Shutterstock

“I usually see sun poisoning in people who fall asleep in the sun and then get burned terribly,” says Dr. Anthony. The amount of time it takes for a sunburn to reach its maximum burn or for you to feel whole body effects varies—it could happen as soon as you get inside or take over while you’re sleeping that night—so if you’ve accidentally spent an entire afternoon catching rays on unprotected skin, take precautions like upping your fluid intake and applying aloe, even if you feel just fine.

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