When your skin is exposed to sunlight that contains ultraviolet or visible light photosensitivity reactions can occur. The one you see most often is sunburn. Sunburn is seen on sun exposed skin surfaces with red areas and if severe swelling and blistering can also be seen. Pain and itching are also common. During the healing process skin peeling is often seen. The best treatment for mild injury is patience and cool compresses.
Acetaminophen can help with the pain. If there are more severe symptoms including blisters with associated fever, chills, headache and feeling sick then call your pediatrician. Severe sunburn needs to be treated like any other burn to the skin. Hydration is very important.
Other reactions include sun poisoning or sun allergy where a variety of skin changes can be seen. Skin changes begin within hours to days of exposure and can vary from redness and swelling to raise red areas with blistering. Another name is PMLE (polymorphous light eruption).
Skin rashes are also associated with the ingestion of various photosensitizing substances in combination with sun exposure. These are commonly due to drugs that induce photosensitivity reactions. These include antibiotics (sulfa/ tetracycline/ doxycycline), phenothiazines, griseofulvin (used for ringworm), thiazide diuretics and acne medication (retinoids).
Topical agents applied directly to the skin can also cause skin reactions with sun exposure. These include various fragrances, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and various antimicrobial agents including hexachlorophene.
Photo allergic reactions are also seen due to skin contact with various plant substances during sun exposure. Limes and citrus fruits are common culprits. These skin changes are often delayed and appear 24 hours after sun exposure. The areas are not itchy but may be painful and after the redness fades an area of increased pigmentation is seen and can last for a long time.
If your child develops skin changes after sun exposure and it is not typical sunburn call your pediatrician.