There are many common injuries that happen in the summer that can lead people to the doctor. Dr. Ian Tullberg, the Urgent Care Medical Director with UCHealth Memorial, says people can often save time and money if they understand the difference between when it's appropriate to go to the doctor or when to take care of things on their own.
Knowing when to self treat and when to seek professional help applies to the most common summer injury Dr. Tullberg sees. "The biggest thing I see is sunburn. People come in all the time for a simple first-degree sunburn. We also see second-degree, that are now known as partial thickness, and there are rarely third-degree sunburns. We see that when it comes to first degree sunburns, many people are not even trying Motrin or doing aloe before they come see us for relief, and those things are two of the biggest things that can help sunburn pain. If you go to doctor with a first-degree sunburn there isn't a lot we can do for you, so you will probably walk out disappointed.”
Treating a painful, itchy, red sunburn boils down to beginning with less expensive alternatives. Dr. Tullberg says, “We don't have a lot of stuff that is better than over-the-counter stuff, there are many sunburn creams and sprays that will try to take the sting away. There really are not any great medications that a doctor can prescribe. Sometimes we will give you a steroid to bring down inflammation, but most of the time that doesn't work as well as over the counter things."
So when is it appropriate to go to the doctor with a sunburn? Dr. Tullberg adds, "If you start seeing blistering, it's a good idea to be seen. That starts getting into the 2nd degree of partial thickening burns, and there some infection prevention issues to look at. The biggest thing you don’t want to do is to pop those blisters, because while they are intact you skin is intact. The integrity of skin is lessened with any type of burn and infection can set in, so when you have those blisters you need to be seen so we can see what the situation is in terms of thicker burns and there are some medications and infection prevention that we can do for you."
The best advice is to avoid sunburn in the first place by limiting your exposure to the the sun. If you do have to be outside for extended periods of time wear protective clothing and use generous amounts of sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply at least every two hours.