Skip This Added Expense on Your Next Sun-Filled Vacation

Sunburn with sunscreen
(Image credit: lavizzara/Shutterstock)

Here's an extra expense you'll want to avoid if you take a tropical vacation this winter: a trip to the emergency room to treat a bad sunburn.

The cost of treating sunburns in ERs across the U.S. totaled more than $11 million in 2013, according to a new report.  

In the report, which was published today (Nov. 30) as a research letter in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers analyzed data from a nationwide sample of ER visits in 2013. The data contained information from about 30 million ER visits to nearly 1,000 hospitals in 30 states.

From this, researchers estimated that there were a total of 135 million visits to U.S. emergency rooms in 2013, and that more than 33,800 of these visits were related to sunburn, according to the report, led by Gery Guy Jr., a health economist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of these visits involved young adults, the researchers found. Teenage boys made about 6,000 ER visits due to sunburns, and women ages 18 to 29 made about 6,500 ER visits for sunburn, according to the report. [5 Surprising Things About Sunscreen]

The number of sunburn-related emergency room visits "were most frequent among youth and young adults," the researchers wrote. Indeed, the number of emergency room visits due to sunburn decreased with age, the researchers found.

The cost of treating sunburns was about equal in men and women, with men accounting for $5.5 million and women accounting for $5.7 million of the total cost in 2013, the researchers found.

Perhaps not surprisingly, more people went to the emergency room for sunburns in the spring and summer, according to the report. In addition, emergency room visits for sunburns were most common in the South.

The researchers noted that the number of sunburn-related emergency room visits decreased by about 17 percent over a seven-year period, from nearly 41,000 visits in 2006 to about 33,800 visits in 2013. However, the overall rates of sunburns (not sunburn-related emergency room visits) are still high in the U.S. For example, research has shown that 37 percent of adults and 56 percent of children and teens report having had at least one sunburn in the past year, the researchers wrote. 

Sunburns increase a person's risk for skin cancer but are preventable with simple measures, such as seeking shade, using sunscreen and wearing sun-protective clothing, the researchers wrote.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed panel that makes recommendations regarding the effectiveness of preventive health services, recommends that health care providers talk with fair-skinned patients ages 10 to 24 about ways to reduce their risk of sunburn. (Fair-skinned individuals are more likely to burn than those with darker skin.)

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.