Sun poisoning is a somewhat misleading name for several different conditions which all fall under the same umbrella of severe sunburn. The first type is simply that—severe sunburn, which anyone can get. The second type is called polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), and only affects 1 in every 10 Americans. PMLE may be genetic or it may be the result of having moved to a new location and not yet adapted to the climate. The third type is called solar urticaria and is synonymous with sun allergy. How long sun poisoning lasts depends entirely on what type of sun poisoning you are afflicted with.
Severe sunburn is a short term condition when it occurs—most severe sunburns can clear up in about a week to two weeks as long as you treat them. Treatment for severe sunburn is generally simple. Just get yourself out of the sun, drink some extra fluids for the next few days, and cool down your body temperature straightaway by jumping in the (cool) shower or the bath or using cool compresses. Take some ibuprofen if you need the pain relief and use Aloe Vera or a similar moisturizer on your skin to speed up the healing process. Keep out of the sun (or cover up) until you’re recovered.
If you have PMLE, you should recover from most of your symptoms within ten days or so—again if you treat your symptoms properly using the same methods as above. Keep in mind that like severe sunburn, PMLE can recur if you are susceptible. The long-term prognosis for PMLE varies. Sometimes it gets worse if you don’t seek medical treatment, but often it goes away completely on its own and doesn’t come back with time. If you have PMLE because you relocated to a sunnier climate, with some adaptation you may no longer have PMLE.
Sun allergy attacks are also acute in nature, but the condition is chronic. It may not be permanent however. There are methods which can be used to treat sun allergy and sometimes make it go away completely. Desensitization and phototherapy are both treatment methods which may be able to get you over your solar urticaria permanently. If you think you may have PMLE or sun allergy, you should consult with a physician to find out your long term treatment options, even if your symptoms aren’t that severe. You may be able to stop experiencing symptoms altogether by curing your condition.
Prevention is also important; you can prevent all three forms of sun poisoning by taking simple steps to protect yourself. Try using sunscreen which protects against UVA and UVB rays, or try wearing long sleeves, using an umbrella, or wearing a hat. You can also try to limit your sun exposure during the brightest and hottest times of the day. Try and do your activities in the morning or late afternoon or evening if you can. Be extra cautious if you’re in a snowy or sandy environment since those environments can reflect the sunlight and multiply its intensity.