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You're riding the Wasatch Crest Trail at 9700 feet. You picked a smallish T-shirt that shows off your muscles, and that wouldn't flap around during that awesome downhill into Mill Creek Canyon. When you get back to the car, the skin of your low back feels irritable. Reaching around, you discovered you've absolutely toasted a small stripe where the T-shirt left a gap above your shorts.

A sunburn is ultraviolet damage to the skin. Much of the damage can be repaired. But in the meantime, your confused immune system is attacking the skin as though it were a dangerous infection. So the treatment of sunburn is: calm the reaction while you heal.

Typical "back stripe" of severe sunburn caused by a gap between the shirt and shorts. Note the raw, beaded appearance.

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A severe sunburn can blister. Swelling can create new permanent wrinkles. Doctors often give oral steroids (like prednisone or Medrol) for severely swollen or blistered sunburns. Infection is rare, but can occur if a blistered sunburn isn't protected.

Immediate care:
Put cool compresses on the burn. Take an anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen 600 mg four times a day. Gently apply hydrocortisone cream to the burned area. Kick yourself for not using sunblock.

Ongoing care:
The burn tends to become itchy after a couple of days. Continue to use hydrocortisone twice daily. Continue the anti-inflammatory medicine. For itching, take diphenhydramine (example, Benadryl) 50 mg every four hours.

See the doctor if:
    - the burn is severe and covers a large body area
    - the burn becomes swollen
    - pain or itching can't be controlled
    - skin becomes broken or bleeds

[First Aid Index Page]