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The sun’s warm rays may feel good, but they can leave behind painful reminders in the form of a sunburn.

Your feet are particularly vulnerable because it’s easy to forget to apply sunscreen to the tops of your feet. Plus, moisture and water exposure at the beach or pool can wash away even the most careful applications of sunscreen.

If you find yourself with sunburned and swollen feet, there are remedies to help. Keep reading to find out what to do, and when you should skip the drugstore and call a doctor.

When your feet are swollen and sunburned, you want to focus on measures that reduce swelling and create cooling sensations while your skin heals. Examples of these steps include:

  • Soak in cold water. Create a cool water foot bath by getting a small tub (available at most drugstores) and filling it with cool water. Soak your feet for about 10 minutes. Gently pat your feet dry, and apply a moisturizer to protect against dryness. Don’t use ice in the water. Water that’s too cold can damage your skin.
  • Add soothing ingredients. Add extra ingredients to the foot bath (if desired). Examples include apple cider vinegar to promote healing, baking soda to reduce inflammation, or oatmeal to reduce itching.
  • Cover with cool compresses. Apply cool compresses by dipping soft washcloths in cool water and draping them over your feet.
  • Apply moisturizer. Apply moisturizer to keep the skin soothed. Those containing aloe vera or soy are usually excellent choices.
  • Go shoeless. Minimize the amount of time you wear shoes in the first few days after the sunburn. Shoes can increase friction and pressure, which slows healing.
  • Reduce friction. Wear open-toed shoes (such as flip-flops) when you do need to wear shoes. Know that you may need to loosen straps on sandals if they feel especially tight.
  • Stay hydrated. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Sunburn can lead to dehydration by drawing water to the damaged cells. Ensure you are drinking enough water, so your urine is pale yellow in color.
  • Don’t pop blisters. Refrain from popping blisters that may appear on your feet. While it can be difficult to resist popping these blisters, doing so could reveal vulnerable skin that hasn’t had time to heal.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication. Take an over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen.

Avoid applying products that contain local anesthetics — these will end in the letters “-caine.” Products containing anesthetics may actually do more harm than good by causing allergic reactions and irritation.

It’s easy to question what a doctor could do for you versus what you do at home if you have a bad sunburn. However, there are times when you are better off seeking a doctor’s care for severely sunburned, swollen feet.

Think of it this way: Severe sunburns can be the same as second- and third-degree burns. You would definitely seek a doctor’s care for a severe burn.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, symptoms that show you should call a doctor regarding your sunburned feet include:

  • chills
  • fever greater than 100.5°F (38°C)
  • pus oozing from blisters
  • severe blistering

A doctor may suggest different treatments based on the burn’s severity. In some instances, you may need:

  • intravenous (IV) fluids to treat dehydration
  • prescription topical creams (such as steroids) to treat skin irritation
  • antibiotics and oral steroids to reduce your body’s immune response
  • wound care if blistering or skin irritation is significant

The feet are often an overlooked location where sunburn can occur. Besides the obvious discomforts of a sunburn, the skin damage from ultraviolet radiation can increase your risks for melanoma. According to a 2016 study, an estimated 15 percent of all melanomas on your outer skin layers are on your foot and ankle. And melanoma is the most common cancer type on your feet.

As a result, it’s best to prevent sunburned feet whenever possible. You can do this by:

  • applying a sunscreen to your feet (and whole body) at least every 2 hours
  • choosing water-resistant sunscreen to apply on the feet (even if you aren’t swimming, the feet are vulnerable to sweating)
  • applying sunscreen and waiting a few minutes before putting on shoes to ensure the sunscreen has had time to sink into the skin
  • applying sunscreen to the bottom of the feet, not just the tops. The bottom of your feet can get burned too, and the results are especially uncomfortable
  • wearing SPF-socks or protective clothing (several brands make socks or leggings for outdoor activities to protect your feet and legs from the sun)

Protecting your skin from excess sun exposure can be vital to protecting against melanoma and other skin cancer forms.

Excess sun exposure not only causes sunburn. It can also cause a condition known as polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) or sun poisoning. Sunburn is a “local” reaction to the sun, it affects your skin where the damage occurs. PMLE is a systemic (body-wide) reaction.

Symptoms of sun poisoning include:

  • eczema-like/scaly lesions
  • fever
  • headaches
  • hives
  • itchy rash
  • nausea

You will usually experience these symptoms within a few hours to days after your sun exposure. They represent an immune system reaction to the sun. Sunburn doesn’t usually cause the body-wide symptoms, such as nausea, fever, or chills.

If you experience the symptoms above, call a doctor. According to a 2017 research review, a doctor will usually prescribe steroids and potentially other immune-suppressing medications such as chloroquine or azathioprine. These can minimize your body’s immune response to allow your skin to heal and reduce symptoms.

Ideally, you can take preventive steps to keep sunburns from occurring. But if you do find yourself with sunburned, swollen feet, taking quick action to soothe skin and maintain internal and external moisture can help.

Remember, however, that excessive sunburned and blistering feet may require a doctor’s attention.