Sunlight offers a number of health benefits. It’s an important source of Vitamin D, which is linked to mood improvements and stronger bones. Unfortunately, for some individuals the sun does more harm than good.
A sunlight allergy is known to cause a red, itchy rash. Symptoms develop after sun exposure and can be incredibly uncomfortable, even requiring medical attention. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms that indicate a sunlight allergy and tips on how to treat and manage the condition.
Sunlight allergies can be hereditary or they can be caused by triggers like medications and chemicals. The most common symptoms of a sun allergy are developing a red, itchy rash, blisters or scaling on the skin. Treatment typically includes an over-the-counter or prescription corticosteroid. Keep reading to learn more about sunlight allergies.
Here’s How to Know if You May Have a Sun Allergy.
What is a Sunlight Allergy?
A sun allergy is an immune response to skin that’s been exposed to the sun. The sun-exposed skin is recognized as “foreign,” triggering the body’s immune defenses to kick into gear. It’s unclear why some individuals experience this problem.
There are several types of sunlight allergies, which include:
- Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE) — This type of sun allergy causes a rash to appear. It typically occurs in spring or early summer and most sufferers don’t experience a repeat reaction during the summer season.
- Actinic prurigo — This is a hereditary form of PMLE, which affects people of American Indian backgrounds. The symptoms tend to be more severe than those of PMLE sufferers. Most people with actinic prurigo also tend to develop this sunlight allergy during childhood or adolescence.
- Photoallergic eruption — The skin reacts to sunlight due to chemicals that have been applied to the skin. These include chemicals found in cosmetics, fragrances and medications. Medications most likely to cause this type of reaction include sulfa-based drugs, tetracycline antibiotics and certain types of pain relievers.
Although these are not the only types of sunlight allergies, they are the most common. Having lighter skin or a relative with a sun allergy can increase an individual’s risk of having an allergy to sunlight.
Symptoms of a Sunlight Allergy
Symptoms vary according to the type of sunlight allergy. PMLE sufferers generally experience small red bumps, which are typically raised. They might also experience small fluid-filled blisters and skin bleeding. The rash typically occurs on the neck, arms, lower legs and upper chest. The rash may be accompanied by chills, headache and nausea. Those suffering from actinic prurigo will experience similar symptoms to those with PMLE, but their rash is more likely to be located on their face and mouth.
Photoallergic eruption generally causes sun-exposed skin to form tiny blisters or an itchy red rash. It may also spread to areas of skin that were protected by clothing. With this type of allergy, symptoms tend to be delayed and may not appear for 1 to 2 days.
One rare type of allergy, solar urticaria, causes hives to appear in a matter of minutes of sunlight exposure.
Although the symptoms of a sunlight allergy may sound similar to severe sunburn, that is not the case. An allergic reaction can occur with just a few minutes of sun exposure. While sunburn can damage DNA in skin cells, an allergic reaction to sunlight does not.
Treating an Allergic Reaction to Sunlight
For an individual experiencing a reaction to sunlight, the treatment method depends on the type of allergy and severity of the reaction. Very mild cases can clear up on their own with an extended break from sunlight and the use of cool compresses, over-the-counter corticosteroid cream or antihistamine.
Severe cases that are painful and extremely itchy will require a visit with a doctor. A doctor may prescribe stronger antihistamines or corticosteroids, like prednisone, as a course of treatment for sunlight allergies.
Managing a Sunlight Allergy
Allergic reactions to sunlight can be prevented with proper sun protection. Wear protective clothing whenever possible and regularly apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Stay indoors or in shaded areas in the afternoons when the sunlight is at its peak.
Some sunlight allergies are hereditary and may not resolve. Others can be caused by a new medication. If this is the case, visit with a healthcare provider about making changes to your medication.
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