Did you know that a sunburn can happen within 15 minutes of being in the sun, but its symptoms may not be noticed for a few hours?
Sunburns are caused when the skin comes into contact with Ultraviolet (UV) light—aka, the sun—for too long. Even on a cloudy day you can get sunburned, as UV light can pass through clouds. Repeated sunburns can lead to skin cancer. Kiddos (and adults) who have moles or freckles, very fair skin and hair, or a family history of skin cancer are at a greater risk. Another risk factor is being at higher elevations, such as in Wyoming or in the mountains, as you are closer to the sun. You should also talk to your doctor if you take medications as some medications can cause the skin to burn more easily.
Sunburn symptoms typically appear between three to five hours after sun exposure. Mild symptoms include:
- Itchiness or pain
- skin redness
- skin that feels hot to the touch
These symptoms are generally the worst 12-24 hours after being in the sun and generally improve over the following three days. To help treat these symptoms, apply a cool compress as often as needed, gently rub moisturizing creams or aloe gel on the skin, give extra fluids for a few days, and (if needed) give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen as directed to relieve pain. Most importantly, stay out of the sun until the redness and pain go away.
Sunburns can be severe in some cases. Severe symptoms include:
- confusion, dizziness, headache
- extreme pain and tingling or the sunburn forms blisters
- fever and chills
If your child shows any of these symptoms, remove them from the sun immediately and seek emergency care.
It is important to try and prevent prolonged exposure to the sun, as people who get frequent sunburns are at greater risk of developing health problems (other than skin cancer) such as wrinkles and other skin changes, and eye problems such as cataracts, which cause trouble with seeing. Below are some ways to protect your kid and yourself from getting sunburned:
- Minimize sun exposure without sunscreen or other sun protection (hats, protective clothing, and sunglasses) between 10 am-4 pm, as this is when the sun's UV light is the strongest.
- Stay under a sun umbrella or in a shady spot when possible when you are out in the sun.
- Apply sunscreen on all parts of your body, especially the parts that are not covered by clothing. And, be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and 30 minutes after exposure begins—be sure to reapply after more frequently if kids are very active or swimming. Use a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or greater, and one that protects against both UVA and UVB light. It's also good to wear a lip balm with SPF 30 or greater.
- Never use a tanning bed.
If you have any questions regarding your sunburn, be sure to contact your doctor for further information.
The Campbell County Medical Group Kid Clinic is a school-based pediatric clinic offering medical care and counseling services for Campbell County students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and their siblings ages 2 weeks and up. It is located at 800 Butler Spaeth Rd., across from St. Matthew's Catholic Church. The Kid Clinic is open Monday-Friday from 8 am-5 pm. For more information, call 307-688-8700 or visit
The Kid Clinic is a collaborative effort between Campbell County Health and Campbell County School District.
This blog was written by Val Amstadt, PA-C. Information was taken fromUpToDate.com.