How to Treat a Severe Sunburn

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sunburn_kid - treating severe sunburn

You can’t open a magazine in the summer without being reminded that we should all be slathering ourselves in sunscreen all the time, rain or shine, cloudy or sunny. And invariably, most moms – even the ones who have it majorly together – will drop the ball once a summer and end up with a medium rare kid or mega lobster shoulders. Most of the time, it’s no big deal. A little aloe and indoor playtime and the sunburn fades. You vow to do better next time and buy sunscreen in bulk. For the curious, we use EltaMD sunscreen because it’s literally the only thing that doesn’t make my daughter’s sensitive skin go crazy.

Sometimes, though, a sunburn is so bad that it starts to look alarming or really bothers the person sporting it.

  • Contrary to popular belief, don’t treat a severe sunburn with ointments. 100% aloe in gel form is okay – cool it in the fridge first – but lotions don’t let skin breathe or heat escape, which can delay healing and making you more uncomfortable.
  • For severe sunburns that really hurt, take OTC anti-inflammatory pain relievers like ibuprofen. If you’re giving your children medication for the pain, make sure you know the correct dosage, of course.
  • The itch that comes when a severe sunburn starts to heal can be temporarily relieved with OTC antihistamines like Benadryl. Don’t, however, use Benadryl cream on kids because the dosage you get in the lotion is unpredictable.
  • Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water will promote healing.
  • Don’t apply ice – that can actually damage skin further. Instead, to relieve the pain and heat of a severe sunburn, apply cold compresses. Just wet a washcloth with cool water, ring it out, and apply it to sunburned skin for instant, safe relief.

But if the sunburn is severe and includes blisters, or it covers most of your child’s body, call your pediatrician. Other warning signs that mean it’s time to call the doctor include a fever, severe pain, an infection at the site of the sunburn, or a sunburn that doesn’t start to improve in a day or two. The doc will probably prescribe a corticosteroid cream or a short course of prednisone. In the most severe cases, IV fluids are needed to combat dehydration.

And next time, instead of treating a severe sunburn, remember the sunscreen!





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