One of the most common questions people have after getting a sunburn is, “How long does sunburn pain last?” 

Summer is here, and with it comes the joys of spending long days outside soaking up the sun. 

However, spending too much time in the sun without adequate protection can lead to painful and uncomfortable sunburns. 

While most people are aware of the dangers of sunburn and take steps to prevent it, accidents can still happen. 

Whether you got caught without sunscreen, lost track of time, or simply underestimated the sun’s strength, the aftermath of a sunburn can be a painful and uncomfortable experience. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the factors that determine the duration of sunburn pain and provide in depth answers regarding the longevity of sunburns. 

How Long Does Sunburn Pain Typically Last?

According to Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein, a dermatologist based in Connecticut, the duration of sunburn varies based on its severity. However, in the case of more severe sunburns that result in blisters, the healing process may take up to ten days.

Mild sunburn pain duration

Mild sunburn pain typically lasts for 2–3 days. The affected area may be red and tender to the touch, but the pain is usually manageable with home remedies and over-the-counter pain relievers.

Moderate sunburn pain duration

Moderate sunburn pain can last for up to a week. The affected area may be very red and swollen, and blistering may occur. The pain may be more intense and require stronger pain relievers or medical attention.

Severe sunburn pain duration

Severe sunburn pain can last for several weeks, and medical attention may be necessary. The affected area may be very red and blistered, and the pain may be severe. In addition to sunburn pain relief, treatment may involve medications to prevent infection and promote healing.


When to Seek Medical Attention for Sunburn?

Sunburns can range from mild to severe and can have different symptoms like redness, pain, swelling, blisters, and fever. 

In general, it is recommended to seek medical attention for sunburns if:

  • The sunburn covers a large area of your body, especially if it is accompanied by severe pain, blistering, or swelling.
  • You have a high fever, chills, or other symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
  • The sunburn is accompanied by severe pain, headache, dizziness, or nausea.
  • You have a weakened immune system or a history of skin cancer.
  • The sunburn is not healing after a few days, or if it becomes infected.
  • You have a history of severe allergic reactions or if you are experiencing any signs of an allergic reaction like difficulty breathing, hives, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Signs of severe sunburn

Severe sunburn can be very painful and uncomfortable, and it can also lead to serious health complications. 

Some of the symptoms of severe sunburn include:

  • Intense pain and discomfort: Severe sunburn can cause intense pain and discomfort in the affected area.
  • Blisters: Large blisters that are filled with fluid can develop on the skin.
  • Swelling: Swelling can occur in the affected area, and it may be accompanied by redness and inflammation.
  • Headache, fever, and chills: These symptoms may indicate that you have heat exhaustion or heatstroke, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.
  • Nausea and vomiting: These symptoms can also be signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
  • Dehydration: Severe sunburn can cause dehydration, which can lead to dizziness, fatigue, and confusion.

Possible complications from sunburn

Sunburn is a common and usually mild form of skin damage caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

However, severe sunburn can cause a range of complications, including:

  1. Skin damage: Prolonged sun exposure can cause premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of skin damage.
  2. Skin cancer: Sunburn is a risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
  3. Dehydration: Severe sunburn can cause dehydration, which can lead to dizziness, fatigue, and confusion.
  4. Heat exhaustion: Sunburn can also lead to heat exhaustion, a condition that can cause weakness, dizziness, nausea, and other symptoms.
  5. Heatstroke: In severe cases, sunburn can cause heatstroke, a life-threatening condition that can cause organ failure, seizures, and coma.
  6. Infection: Blisters that form as a result of severe sunburn can become infected, leading to further complications.

How long does sunburn redness last?

After exposure to the sun, you can expect redness to appear on your skin within two to six hours. The redness will typically reach its peak within 24 hours and then gradually subside over the next one to two days. However, if the sunburn is severe, the redness may persist for a longer period of time before gradually subsiding.

How long does sunburn swelling last?

The duration of sunburn swelling can vary depending on the severity of the burn. In mild cases of sunburn, swelling may not be noticeable or may only last for a few hours. However, in more severe cases of sunburn, swelling can be a common symptom and may last for several days. 

It is important to keep the affected area elevated and to apply cool compresses to help reduce swelling. 

If the swelling persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever or blisters, it is recommended to seek medical attention, as these may be signs of a more severe sunburn.

How long do sunburn blisters last?

In most cases, sunburn blisters will begin to develop within a few hours after UV exposure  and can last for several days to a week. 

As the blisters heal, they may begin to dry out and eventually peel away from the skin. It is important to avoid picking or popping the blisters, as this can increase the risk of infection and delay the healing process. 

If you develop blisters as a result of sunburn, it is important not to rupture them. 

Blisters are a natural part of the healing process, serving as a protective barrier to promote healing. Breaking them prematurely can delay the healing process and increase the risk of infection. 

If a blister ruptures on its own, it is essential to clean the affected area with mild soap and water, followed by applying a wet dressing to keep it moist. Keeping the blisters out of the sun is crucial to expedite the healing process.

How long does sunburn peeling last?

The peeling is a natural process that occurs as the damaged skin cells shed to make way for new, healthier cells to grow.

The duration of sunburn peeling can vary depending on the severity of the burn. Mild sunburns may only result in light peeling that lasts for a few days, while more severe burns can result in larger areas of skin peeling that may take several weeks to fully heal.

To avoid irritating your delicate, newly-exposed skin during the peeling process, it’s important to handle the dead skin cells with care. Rather than forcefully pulling or exfoliating, allow the skin to shed naturally. 

Taking a warm bath can be helpful in loosening the dead cells, and moisturizing the skin can also aid in the healing process. However, it’s important to choose a non-irritating moisturizer, such as plain petroleum jelly, to avoid causing further discomfort.

Additionally, over-the-counter creams and lotions containing aloe vera or hydrocortisone can help soothe the skin and reduce inflammation. 

How long does sun poisoning last?

Sun poisoning, also known as sun allergy, sun rash, or photodermatitis, can last for several days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the reaction and the treatment received.

Symptoms of sun poisoning include: rash, blisters, rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

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