What is a sun allergy? Learn about photosensitivity By Giftalnews
People often feel better and happier when the sun is shining. But, for people with photosensitivity, sunlight causes health problems. Photosensitivity, also called sun allergy or photodermatoses, is an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from light sources like sun exposure or tanning beds. There are several types of sun allergies. However, all types increase the risk of damage to your skin and your chance of developing skin cancer. The causes of photosensitivity include medical conditions, medications, and genetics.
What is a sun allergy?
An allergy occurs when your immune system reacts to a foreign substance, such as pet dander or pollen, causing inflammation and other symptoms. When you have a sun allergy, skin damage from UVA and UVB rays is recognized as a foreign substance. It triggers your immune system, resulting in itchy rashes, redness, and inflammation on sun-exposed skin. You are most likely to see a photosensitivity reaction on your neck, back of hands, outside of arms, and lower legs, according to Harvard Health. In severe cases, symptoms can spread to areas of the body not exposed to UV light. They might appear within minutes of being in the sun or several days later.
|Types of photosensitivity|
|Skin condition||Cause||Common||At-risk populations||Age of onset||Symptoms||Incubation period|
|Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE)—AKA phototoxicity or sun poisoning||Most commonly drug-induced||Most common; affects 10%-15% of U.S. population||Affects more women than men||Teens to 20s||Itchy rash, blisters, small red areas, flu-like symptoms, headache, fever, chills, nausea||Within a minutes to hours after UV exposure|
|Photoallergy||Drug-induced||Less prevalent than phototoxic reactions||People who use certain topical medications, cosmetics, and fragrances||All ages||Burning or itchy rash and blisters||24-72 hours after exposure to drug and light|
|Actinic prurigo||Genetic||Rare||Affects more American Indians than other races, affects more women than men||Usually before age 10||Itchy, crusty bumps on face, neck, upper extremities, and buttocks||Typically occurs in spring and can last through winter|
|Solar urticaria||Unknown||Rare; only 7% of sun allergies||Most prevalent in women||Median age of onset is 35||Hives, burning, stinging. Skin can appear darker after the reaction.||Anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks|
What causes photosensitivity?
There are several known causes for sun sensitivity, including drug-induced photosensitivity, a symptom of a medical condition, genetics, or it can be idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.
Sun allergies often first appear in childhood, but it very much depends on the type and cause. “Some people can become sun-sensitive and develop an allergy to sun exposure as teens or adults,” explains Vindhya Veerula, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Fort Wayne, Indiana. “This could happen on its own or in conjunction with an autoimmune disorder. Lupus is a common cause of sun sensitivity. Sometimes exposure to certain plants or other chemicals activate with UV radiation and can cause sensitivity.”
Photosensitive drugs list
Some medications that might cause sun sensitivity, including acne medications containing alpha-hydroxy acids, antibiotics (i.e. tetracycline and doxycycline), allergy medicine, blood pressure meds such as hydrochlorothiazide, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, and even some vitamins and supplements, including St. John’s wort. You can find a full list of sun-sensitizing medications here.
When prescribed a new medication, it is vital to read the potential side effects, discuss preventative measures you can take to avoid adverse skin reactions, and understand when to contact a medical professional.
Diseases that cause sun sensitivity
Some medical conditions that cause photosensitivity, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, include:
- Actinic folliculitis
- Bloom syndrome
- Chronic actinic dermatitis
- Darier’s disease
- Disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis
- Hydroa vacciniforme
- Idiopathic photodermatoses
- Lichen planus actinicus
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Rothmund-Thomson syndrome
- Xeroderma pigmentosum
Sun allergy treatment tips
“Treatment might start with a thorough history and physical exam, along with bloodwork and a skin biopsy, if necessary,” says Dr. Veerula. “Often it is treated by avoiding the trigger, which in this case is UV rays, from the sun or tanning beds. Usually, topical and oral anti-inflammatories can help.”
The best treatment for sun sensitivity is prevention. Using proper sun protection methods significantly reduce uncomfortable or painful symptoms. Dermatologists recommendthat everyone should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. People who experience symptoms almost immediately after being in the sun should take steps to avoid direct sunlight.
RELATED: Does sunscreen expire?
Some commercial products, like Eucerin Sun Allergy Protect Gel Cream, indicate they can reduce sun allergy symptoms and protect your skin against skin cancer-causing antioxidants. However, you should speak with your doctor before relying on them to protect yourself when out in the sun.
Despite taking the proper steps to protect your skin, you could still experience photoallergic reactions. For severe sunburns, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests the following at-home treatments:
- Stay out of the sun and wear protective clothing
- Take frequent cool showers or baths or apply cold compresses
- Liberally apply moisturizers containing aloeor soy
- Moisturize affected areas with coconut oilto prevent skin from peeling
- Use ibuprofen to relieve swelling and discomfort if necessary
- Drink extra water
- Antihistamines and over-the-counter cortisone creams reduce symptoms that often accompany the healing process
When to see a doctor for an allergic reaction to sun
The following symptoms should prompt a call to your doctor or a visit to a medical professional:
- Abnormal bleeding under the skin
- A rash on parts of your body not exposed to the sun
- A rash that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medicine
- Blisters (A blistering sunburn is considered a 2nd-degree burn, and you should seek medical attention)
- Dehydration (decreased amount of urine, dry mouth, swollen tongue, fatigue, sugar cravings, confusion, dizziness, heart palpitations)
- Flu-like symptoms
- Fever with chills
- Heat exhaustion (excessive sweating, rapid or weak pulse, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, fainting)
- Heatstroke (fever, fast heartbeat, headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, fainting)
- Sun allergy: Symptoms, causes, treatments, Cleveland Clinic
- Are you allergic to the sun?, Wexner Medical Center
- Actinic prurigo, StatPearls
- Solar urticaria, StatPearls
- Warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, CDC