Definition: Photosensitivity (or sun allergy) is an abnormal reaction of the immune system to sunlight that only certain, sensitive people experience.
Photosensitive people present with a sun allergy rash, a form of dermatitis. Symptoms may include redness, itching, pain, raised bumps (sometimes in a shotgun-pattern patch), scaling, crusting, bleeding, or blisters and hives.
The most common locations for sun allergy rash are the neckline, the back of the hands, and the lateral surfaces of the arms and lower legs.
Photosensitivity of the Eyes
Light sensitivity of the eyes is a mostly unrelated condition called photophobia. The only relationship they have is that both can be triggered by many of the same drugs or medications that cause skin photosensitivity.
Photosensitivity, Epilepsy & Seizures
This is another unrelated light sensitivity of the brain, in which flashing or strobing lights can induce seizures in sensitive people.
There are four types of photosensitivity (sun allergy). The most common is polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), also known as sun poisoning. This is the second most common sun-related skin problem after common sunburn. It occurs in an estimated 10% to 15% of the U.S. population, affecting people of all races and ethnic backgrounds, although it is more common with people of lighter skin. Sun allergy is worst in early Spring when sun exposure begins to become more frequent.
Photoallergic eruption is a type of sun allergy that is a reaction to the application of chemicals to the skin, or the use of medications. Common drugs that have photosensitivity as a side-effect are Doxycycline (as well as other tetracycline antibiotics), sulfa-based medications and pain relievers, such as Motrin. These can cause severe drug photosensitivity. Some essential oils, particularly those of the citrus variety, can cause photosensitive reactions.
Some rarer forms of sun allergy are inherited.
Most people with lupus complain of photosensitive skin issues, many of whom experience occasional PMLE-like symptoms.
Treatment for Sun Allergy
Sun allergy rash can usually be treated by antihistamines and cortisone creams. In more serious cases, a doctor may prescribe phototherapy, PUVA or antimalarial drugs.
- Try to avoid the sun during peak times in the late morning and afternoon.
- Gradually expose yourself to sunlight in early Spring so your skin has time to adapt.
- Use a sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF. Apply 30 minutes before going out. Eucerin makes a popular sunscreen called Sun Allergy Protection Cream-Gel.
- Some say that eating foods rich in antioxidants & other compounds can help with skin photosensitivity. These foods include orange and red fruits & vegetables like citrus fruits and bell peppers, fish oil, almonds, dark chocolate, green tea, turmeric, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and other greens.
- Wear UV-blocking, polarized sunglasses and protective clothing. Wide-brimmed hats, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts can help protect your skin from sun exposure. You may even want to consider looking into my Wanderer jacket (pictured below):
“I absolutely love it. I am extremely photosensitive due to a medicine I take for a chronic illness. As I had hoped, this jacket is light enough to wear in warmer temperatures without me suffocating.” – Kathren B.