OK, let’s set the stage here. I’m a pale person. I’ve never been tan a day in my life. I have to bath in sunscreen or I end up sunburned after about 5 minutes in the sun. And then it peels. And I’m just as pale as I was before.
So, being that I’m not a particularly big fan of cancer, I wear sunscreen whenever I’m in the sun. And so I rarely get sunburned.
Except, apparently, in Hawaii.
I applied sunscreen, I swear. But somehow, on our first full day there, I got pretty badly sunburned on my upper shoulders and upper back. I was pretty uncomfortable, but was surviving. Until the second night.
I still don’t know what exactly happened. It was incredibly bizarre. And excruciating. I’ve never had anything like it happen to me after a sunburn and so it was a bit scary.
It started around dinner time. My back – where it had been sunburned – started itching. But not itching in a sort of annoying hey my back itches kind of way. Much more intense. I applied some aloe and hoped for the best.
The best? Not so much.
Over the next few hours, the itch got worse and worse. It felt like a million little knives sticking me where I’d been burned simultaneously. Or like there were a million little fire ants crawling under my skin. This itch hurt. Bad. I’m not a wimp, I swear. This was intense.
I couldn’t sleep a wink because I was itching and hurting so bad. And, as the hours went by, I started going insane because I became convinced it wouldn’t ever stop or that something was seriously wrong. I wanted to rip my skin off just to make the pain and the itch go away. I started crying. Seriously. It was that bad.
I kept applying aloe but that didn’t do a darn thing. In fact, I’m convinced it made it worse. I applied regular lotion and that soothed things for about 4.3 seconds and then the itch and pain were back. I took several cold showers, but that did absolutely nothing.
I started searching around on the Internet in desperation. The good news is that I discovered I wasn’t the first person ever to experience this post-sunburn fire ant hell itch. That made me feel slightly better. Like I wasn’t going insane. There were loads of suggestions for things that worked but most of them required a trip to the store and all the stores were closed. (At this point, it was about 4am.) Damn you, laid back Hawaii!
Then I came across a suggestion from someone to take a hot shower. To this point, I’d only taken cold showers because I figured cold showers were better for recently sunburned skin. My fellow victim indicated that the itch and pain were attributable to a build up of histamine under the skin (sort of an allergic reaction to the sunburn) and that a hot shower would open up the pores of the skin and allow the histamine to escape. In my state of near insanity, anything sounded good so I decided to give it a try.
Let’s just say it’s not pleasant to take a hot shower when you have a sunburn. But I did it and, well, it sorta worked. For the first time in about 8 hours, I didn’t feel like scratching my eyes out or slitting my own wrists to make it stop. I slipped into bed and quickly fell asleep. Which wasn’t hard because I was spent.
A few hours later, I was awake again and the hell itch was back. I managed to get out of bed, throw on some clothes, and head off to the store (which opened promptly at 7 am) where I bought every single remedy suggested on the Web. I went back and started trying various things until I found the one that worked.
The anti-itch cream worked for about 30 minutes and then the itch was back. Fail.
I couldn’t really tell if the Benadryl worked or not. I kept taking it for a few days because I felt like maybe it was helping, but it could have been psychological. At one point, I switched over to plain ole’ pain killer and it seemed a bit worse, so I went back to Benadryl. It seemed like a logical move in light of the completely unsubstantiated claim from the Web that this was related to histamine.
The thing that seemed to work the best, though, was A & D ointment. That’s somewhat surprising and then also somewhat not surprising since I have been convinced for a number of years that A & D ointment is like the world’s best invention ever. Diaper rash? A & D clears it up far better than any diaper rash cream. Scratch or cut? A & D makes it heal quickly. Chapped lips or super dry skin? A & D is the best moisturizer you’ll ever find. Well, you can add anti-itch cream to the mix. That stuff is magic. A & D I love you.
I started applying A & D ointment every couple of hours or so, and that helped me get by and let me be a fully functioning person on a Hawaiian vacation. Rather than a crying, mildly hysterical wreck.
Everything was back to normal within about 36 hours. The itching stopped altogether. And a couple of days later, I started peeling. Of course.
Has anyone else experienced this following a sunburn? I can tell you that I’m more obsessed now than I was before about not getting sunburned. This isn’t just about cancer anymore. I never want to have the wrath of post-sunburn fire ant hell itch descend upon me ever again. So, stop by and say hi. I’ll be the pasty chick by the side of the pool.