Can we actually be allergic to the sun? Ye we can… How to recognise sun allergy this summer
“Yassou” Hello readers from an Island in Greece on the day the United Kingdom disunited from Europe … What a utter shame!
As I sit here on this historic day, I contemplate which skin conditions may affect and unite us all as Europeans this summer. Having seen a few cases already this summer allergic reactions to sunlight or “photodermatoses” comes to mind.
Whatever our skin type may be, when we are exposed to the different types of ultraviolet light (UVA, UVB, UVC Infra Red or visible light) whilst in the sun we may come out in a rash, which is due to an “allergic” immune reaction. For us to treat this condition we must first be aware of how this rash appears i.e. the timeline after sun exposure, where on the body we get the rash and how long it lasts.
For this months blog post I hope to share some tips on “sun allergy/ photodermatoses”, which will hopefully help you to recognise and seek specialist advice for treatment.
My top 5 “sun allergic reactions” and what you can do about them:
1. Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE): This is the most common form sun allergy. It commonly occurs in your 20’s to 30’s; more commonly in women in comparison to men although can occur in any age group and in any sex. You should look out for itchy red bumps on your skin appearing (most commonly on sun exposed sites) within 30 min to 24-48 hours of sun exposure, this may be accompanied with feeling unwell in some cases. It often occurs in the first few days of a sunny holiday and disappears by the time you return back home. Although PMLE has been reported to occur after any form of UV light exposure it is widely believed to be due to an allergy to UVA light.
If you have experienced this then you should always wear a sunscreen SPF 50+; which has a 5star rating including good UVA coverage and UVB coverage with regular reapplication every 2 hours whilst in the sun. Sun protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat with a unit protection factor of 40+ will also help. If you have had got the rash already topical steroids to be directly apply to the rash use of a soothing lotion for symptomatic relief will help. On your return from holiday please seek a Dermatologist’s advice as you will need a proper investigative work up for this.
2. Solar urticaria: This is a more severe form of sun allergy again due to a reaction of your skin to the UVA component of sunlight. This appears as wheals on sun exposed parts of your body within a few minutes to 30 minutes of sun exposure. Often people feel generally unwell when this sun allergic reaction occurs. If you are on holiday and this occurs you should consider seeking specialist Dermatology advice whilst on holiday.
3. Photo-aggravated eczema: This condition appears in the form of worsening of ones underlying eczema whist being exposed for a few hours in the sun. This can occur due to any wavelength i.e. UVA, UVB or UVC and is often treated by staying out of direct sunlight especially between 10am to 3 pm when the sun is very strong and applying broad spectrum i.e. UVA and UVB filtering sunscreens with regular reapplication.
4. Drug induced photosensitivity: You may be aware that some medications we take for common medical ailments may cause your skin to be overtly sensitive to the sun. This is a condition called photosensitivity. Some common medications which can make your skin photosensitive include: antibiotics i.e. Tetracyclines taken commonly for acne; blood pressure medications such as Bendroflumethiazide; Painkillers such as Ibuprofen and Naproxen and anti malaria medication such as Chloroquine.
If you are on any of the above medication or are just not sure whether the medication you are on can cause photosensitivity, please book in to see your doctor or dermatologist who can check this for you.
5. Chronic actinic dermatitis is a rare sun induced allergy, which can occur in combination with other allergic skin reactions such as allergy to perfumes, plants and other chemicals in conjunction with a sun allergy. This condition often looks like thickened dry itchy skin particularly on the face, neck and the back of your hands.; it can result in coarsening or altering of your facial features. We see this commonly in gardeners who are exposed to plants and the sun whilst being outdoors. This is again often due to sensitivity to UVA and requires proper sunlight testing called monochromator testing by a specialist Dermatologist to diagnose and treat this.
If you are either preparing for your holidays or have already been away and recognized any of the above signs or symptoms on your skin then please do get in touch with a Dermatologist who will be able to advise you on what you can do to help your skin stay comfortable and sun allergy free this summer.
From sunny Greece … Efcharisto (Thank you) with the hope we remain strong friends and allies with Europe for many more years to come…SR