When might sunburn require medical attention?

Answers from Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D.

Consult a doctor for sunburn treatment if:

  • The sunburn is severe — with blisters — and covers a large portion of your body
  • The sunburn is accompanied by a high fever or severe pain
  • You've developed a skin infection from scratching your sunburned skin
  • You have a severe sunburn that doesn't begin to improve within a few days

Your doctor might suggest a corticosteroid cream for your sunburn, or a short course of prednisone for severe cases involving large areas of your body. Rarely, people who have severe sunburn may need intravenous fluids to combat dehydration.

In most cases, sunburn can be treated at home with:

  • Cool compresses
  • Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Aloe vera gel or lotion
  • Hydration — drinking plenty of fluids
March 01, 2013