Our Skin Research Expert Explains The Difference Between Sunburn And Sun Allergy
We know that exposure to the suns rays can cause premature aging of the skin, but in some cases it can also lead to an allergic reaction. Dr. Harvey Lui explains how to tell if that rash is from the sun and when to see your doctor.
Q: My friend says she is allergic to the sun. Is there such a thing as a sun allergy? A: Yes, people can develop an allergic reaction to the sun called polymorphic light eruption . This causes a delayed skin reaction after exposure to ultraviolet radiation, typically from the sun. People with PLE often experience a rash and itching. This differs from the pain or swelling of sunburn, which can be mistakenly called heat rash. It is actually sunlight, and not heat, that causes the skin reaction. The best way to know for sure if you have PLE, sunburn or some other type of light sensitivity is to speak with a physician.
Q: How is a sun allergy treated?A: The best defense against PLE is to block as much sunlight from reaching the skins surface as possible to prevent the return of symptoms. Patients are advised to cover up with clothing and wear sunglasses and a hat. It is also recommended to use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, but ideally 60 or higher.
Predisposed To Skin Conditions
Tattooing can initiate or cause flare-ups of skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, lichen planus or sarcoidosis. You might already be genetically predisposed to these disorders.The puncturing of skin during tattooing and introduction of the ink can act as a stimulus. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Some people develop skin conditions within days of getting inked, while for others it shows up after several years.
What Is Sun Allergy
A sun allergy is a condition that happens when the immune system reacts to sunlight.
The immune system treats sun-altered skin as foreign cells, leading to the reactions. The reactions that can occur include a rash, blisters or hives. Only people with sensitivity to the sun will exhibit symptoms. For some, the reaction could occur after only a few moments of exposure to the sun.
Sun allergies are fairly common although they are often not reported.
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How Do You Treat Sun Rash
A sun rash doesnt always require treatment. Sometimes, it can reduce and vanish on its own in a week or two. The kind of rash determines whether it needs treatment. If there is sun poisoning, it will undoubtedly need treatment.
Here are some things you should keep in mind:
- If your rash only itches and there are no blisters or bumps, you can treat it with an OTC ointment that contains hydrocortisone. Anti-allergy tablets or antihistamines also work.
- If you wish to avoid medication, you can shower in cold water or use a cold compress to soothe the itch.
- If the sun rash is in the form of blisters, you can take a painkiller and cover the blisters to avoid scratching or exposing them to infection.
- Applying moisturizer to dry and itchy areas can help soothe the skin.
- If the rash doesnt subside, it is essential to see a doctor. Prescription medication can reduce and stop symptoms.
- A doctor can also diagnose if the sun rash is an allergic reaction to any medicine that you might be taking for other health issues. In which case, he or she may prescribe corticosteroids to relieve the symptoms.
- Hydroxychloroquine, the drug used for treating malaria, may be prescribed to treat a sun rash as it can relieve some of the symptoms. However, this is not an OTC drug and will require a prescription.
- According to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 must be used daily.
What Causes The Reaction
Research into solar urticaria is ongoing, and the exact cause of the response to UV has not been established. However, it is understood to be a type of allergic reaction, known as allergic hypersensitivity .
The reaction occurs between the UV radiation and a type of chemical in the body, known as a photoallergen. The specific chemical that acts as a photoallergen remains unidentified.
Discovering this will help researchers better understand what causes the condition and may lead to more effective treatment and prevention of solar urticaria.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Sun Rash
Sun rash can occur several hours or days after sun exposure. The most common symptoms include:
- Small bumps or blisters in a cluster.
- Raised or rough patches of skin.
In some rare cases, you may experience fever or tiredness. Sun rash can occur anywhere on the body, but it usually appears on the neck, chest, forearms, backs of hands, lower legs, and feet.
Do you want to treat your sun rash at home? Find out the treatment options in the next section.
Preparing For An Appointment
You’re likely to start by seeing your family doctor or primary care provider. Or when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin conditions .
At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if you need to do anything in advance. For example, if you’re going to have tests that check for a reaction to ultraviolet light , your doctor may ask you to stop taking certain medications beforehand.
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What Aggravates The Condition
For some people with solar urticaria, sensitivity to a chemical substance on the skin could contribute to the reaction. Substances that can cause sensitivity include:
- skin care products
Avoiding these irritants can help to reduce the severity of the reaction. If chemical sensitivity is the primary cause, ceasing to use certain products may stop the rash developing altogether.
A doctor can diagnose solar urticaria using the following tests:
- Diagnostic phototest â test where small areas of skin are exposed to different strengths of UV light. Doctors observe the skin to see if the specific rash reaction seen in solar urticaria develops.
- â a test where small patches containing different allergens are applied to the skin. When they are removed, the skin is exposed to light, and doctors note any reaction.
- â patches of skin are exposed to different types and strengths of UV light over several days. Doctors observe any reactions.
Methods or management and treatment include:
How To Treat A Sun Rash
Some people are more tolerant to the sun and they can stay exposed to it even for a longer period of time, with consequences of overexposure being suntan or redness, but they rarely develop a rash. Others are more sensitive to the sun and they are more likely to suffer from sun rash. People with fair skin and red hair seem to be more prone to this problem.
Allergic Reaction to the Sun
Sun rash appears through small red bumps on the skin that are often very itchy and may be in the form of tiny blisters. They usually appear on the part of the body that is most exposed to the sun, like hands, arms, neck and face.
This rash can occur minutes or hours after the exposure to the sun. It can be mild and treated just like a mild sunburn. In more severe cases, the rash is more intense and wide-spread. Also, it may be combined with other symptoms like headache, nausea, fever and dizziness. Therefore, more severe cases of allergic reaction to the sun usually require medical care.
How to Treat a Sun Rash?
People who are prone to sun rash should stay away from the sun as much as possible, and when this is not possible they should cover all parts of the body with light clothes that allow the skin to breathe. The skin should always be protected with sun block products with a high sun protection factor, like SPF 85.
Sun rash often itches but it is vital not to scratch it. Scratching may cause further damage to the skin.
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Skin And Body In Optimal Condition
A dry skin will be unpredictable and more likely to get irritated by elements . A couple of weeks prior to your vacation, take very special care of your skin. Hydrate well everyday and at bedtime with your favorite moisturizing lotion or cream. Dont confuse dry skin and dead skin cells! If you have to, exfoliate with a cellulose glove after a long shower. It will eliminates dead cells and oxygenates the skin. This will assure any lotion you use will be fully absorbed. You really dont want to waste precious lotion on dead skin cells! Drink plenty of water. Try to treat any dry spots , eczema patches or inflamed areas.
Sun Rash Is Essentially A Sun Allergy
If you become red and itchy after spending time out in the sun and you haven’t fallen into a patch of poison ivy you might have a case of sun rash.
If you develop it, you’ll notice it’s no sunburn: Sun rash, also called sun allergy, is the immune system’s reaction to sunlight. While getting a bit of sunshine may actually help boost your immune system and leave you with a healthy, natural glow, people with this condition respond to the sun’s rays with hives, itchy, rough patches or a burning rash with fluid-filled blisters.
One of the most common forms of sun rash is called polymorphic light eruption , which also goes by the term sun poisoning. Although the name makes it sound very serious, the condition isn’t actually life-threatening however, it can make things uncomfortable for your skin in the short term.
For many, the condition runs in the family. The Mayo Clinic reports that it’s also possible to trigger a sun rash by going out in the sun while taking certain medications, including antibiotics and pain relievers. If you spend a lot of time soaking in the sun, follow up with your doctor about any new medications to make sure they won’t amplify your skin’s reaction to sunlight. Even limes can trigger a sun rash in certain people.
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Why Do You Get Sun Rash
Prolonged exposure to the sun is one of the primary causes of sun rashes. Some people are photosensitive and are more prone to sun rash. Studies are yet to narrow down on exactly what causes a sun rash. Some experts believe it is the sun’s UV rays that cause the skin to react with a rash. In some instances, people who are sensitive to sunlamps or any artificial sources may develop a rash, resulting from an immune reaction.
Factors That Can Make Your Skin More Prone To Sun Rash Include:
- Heredity, when someone in your immediate family has the same condition
- Females are more prone to sun rash than men
- Living in colder parts of the world
- Having very fair skin
A reaction caused by sunlight on the skin, due to the application of cosmetic products, sunscreens, topical antibiotic ointments, fragrances, and prescribed oral medication, can also cause sun rash. This is known as a photoallergic eruption.
Dr. Harish Koutam, Chief Dermatologist at SkinKraft says, Polymorphous light eruption is generally uncomplicated but severe disease can lead to emotional distress, anxiety and depression. Medication that can cause this kind of sun rash includes diuretics for heart problems and high blood pressure, antibiotics, and painkillers.
How Can I Prevent Sun Allergy Rashes
The skin can sometimes react to the ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays with itching, redness or blisters. The following tips will help prevent the onset of a sun allergy:
- Accustom the skin to sunlight slowly by avoiding long sunbathing sessions and the midday sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Use a sunscreen product with a high sun protection factor .
- Clothing provides only limited protection against UVA and UVB rays, but the darker and denser the fabric, the better.
We have a false sense of security in the shade since the environment reflects sunlight even in places appearing to be shady. Up to 70 percent of radiation intensity is reflected by sand, water, snow or buildings. Glass windows also dont protect the skin from ultraviolet rays.
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Avoid Sudden Exposure To Plenty Of Sunlight
Do you spend all of winter hidden indoors and all of spring and summer basking in the suns rays? That drastic and sudden exposure to plenty of sunlight can kick start your sun allergy symptoms. To help prevent this, gradually increase the amount of time you spend outdoors so your skin has a chance to adapt to the change.
A Polymorphous Light Eruption
PMLE often appear as an itchy rash after sun exposure. After a sunburn, it is the second most common sun-related skin problem seen by doctors. Statistics show it occurs in around 15% of US population, affecting people of all races, and ethnic backgrounds.
Women are more affected by this type, with symptoms typically starting during young adult life. It is rare in winters but common during spring and summer months.
As spring turns into summer, continued exposure causes the skin to become less sensitive, this is known as hardening, and usually, last through the summer. The rash may disappear or become less severe. It, however, return at full intensity the following spring.
This type can be shown by:
- Itching or burning rash on neck, arms, and lower legs
- Tiny areas of bleeding under skin
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How Do You Get Rid Of An Allergic Reaction Rash
A skin rash that is caused by an allergic reaction can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Allergic rashes can be caused by a number of different allergens, and they can vary in severity.
Although most will go away on their own without treatment within a week or two, there are things you can do to help make an allergic reaction rash more comfortable and to help speed up your recovery. Lets talk about some of the common types of allergic rashes and what you can do to get your skin clear again.
Desensitisation Or Uv Treatment
It’s sometimes possible to increase the resistance of your skin to the sun.
This involves visiting a hospital dermatology department 3 times a week for 4 to 6 weeks in the spring.
Your skin is gradually exposed to a little more UV light every visit to try to build up your skin’s resistance.
The effects of desensitisation are lost in the winter, so you’ll have to build up your resistance again in the spring.
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Understanding Photodermatoses And True Sun Allergy
People regularly get allergies from things like pollen, pet dander, peanuts, latex, and shellfish, but the one that would seem unlikely is an allergy to sunlight. However, researchers are now just starting to understand how common sun allergiesmore accurately referred to as photodermatosesreally is.
In fact, a 2011 study from the Universität Witten-Herdecke Center of Dermatology in Germany suggested that between 10% and 20% of people in the United States., Scandinavia, and Central Europe has experienced the most common form of the disorder known as polymorphous light eruption .
How Does Sun Exposure Affect Skin Rashes
December 28, 2021 By Olivia Pryor
Sun allergy is a term used to describe a variety of conditions in which skin exposed to the sun develops an itchy red rash. Polymorphic light eruption, often known as sun poisoning, is the most prevalent type of sun allergy.
Some people have a sort of solar allergy that runs in their families. Others show signs and symptoms only when they are activated by something else, such as a drug or skin contact with plants like wild parsnip or limes.
Spring and early summer are the most common seasons for sun allergy. The skin hardens with continued contact with the sun over the summer months, lowering the risk of acquiring a sun allergy.
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What Is A Sun Allergy
A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight, most often, an itchy red rash. The most common locations include the “V” of the neck, the back of the hands, the outside surface of the arms and the lower legs. In rare cases, the skin reaction may be more severe, producing hives or small blisters that may even spread to skin in clothed areas.
Sun allergies are triggered by changes that occur in sun-exposed skin. It is not clear why the body develops this reaction. However, the immune system recognizes some components of the sun-altered skin as “foreign,” and the body activates its immune defenses against them. This produces an allergic reaction that takes the form of a rash, tiny blisters or, rarely, some other type of skin eruption.
Sun allergies occur only in certain sensitive people, and in some cases, they can be triggered by only a few brief moments of sun exposure. Some forms of sun allergy are inherited.
A few of the most common types of sun allergy are:
Preventing And Treating A Skin Rash
If youre frequently dealing with heat rash, rethink strenuous physical activity when its warm out. Instead, opt to exercise in an air conditioned gym or home if possible. Always hydrate with plenty of fluids and wear loose-fitting clothing when exercising. Heat rash generally goes away on its own within a few hours to a few days, but you can cool your body down in a cold, air conditioned room or in front of a fan. A cool bath or shower can also help. Dont use any products, like lotions or oils, that could further block the pores.
If youre suffering from polymorphic light eruption, skincare for sun damage means using an OTC steroid cream like hydrocortisone to stop the itching or an OTC oral antihistamine, which can help curb the allergic reaction. Cold compresses on the affected area can help. Avoid scratching the irritated skin. See a dermatologist if you get frequent sun poisoning, as they can put you on a medication formulated to prevent it.
Remember to always wear sunscreen with a minimum of 30-50 SPF. This will help protect against the suns harmful UV rays. You can also wear long sleeves or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your skin while outside.
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