Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why do I have swollen ankles after sunburn?"
I went to the beach a few days ago and got extreme sunburn (no blisters) on my legs and feet. I woke up today and my ankles and feet are swollen. Could the sunburned skin be the cause of the swelling?
Swelling after a sunburn is a common problem, that often occurs if you have been on your feet more than usual. However, it can have a range of causes from mild to serious, and therefore should be evaluated by a physician. When you go to your doctor's appointment, be prepared to discuss the following possibilities. If the ankle swelling started just after the sunburn, it may be due to an inflammatory reaction as the skin tries to heal. A sunburn is a first degree burn but it still causes local inflammation and pain. As the body mounts an inflammatory response, the capillaries in the area dilate and become leaky. This process can cause localized edema and swelling, which usually resolves on its own over time. However, not every sunburn causes this reaction, so if yours is severe, you should see a physician. Swollen ankles and feet can also be due to lymphedema. Lymph fluid travels up through vessel and is filtered through the lymph nodes of the body. Any issue with the lymph nodes or vessels in your leg can cause the fluid to pool in lower areas of the leg. If you have ever had lymph nodes in your abdomen, pelvis, or legs removed or irradiated, you should see a doctor very soon. Another possible cause of your problem, is your body retaining too much fluid overall, which can be manifested as swollen ankles and feet. This condition, called pitting edema, can affect people who have problems with their heart, liver, or other body systems. When fluid builds up in the legs, it can also build up in the lungs and other critical organs, so it is important to have this issue evaluated immediately. It is not possible to know if your ankle/foot swelling is due to your recent sunburn or a more serious cause without being seen by a doctor. I strongly recommend that you make an appointment to see your primary care doctor, and he or she can refer you to a specialist if this becomes necessary.
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