As the days get longer and the mercury begins to rise, it’s pretty much common knowledge that not only is sun exposure in the summer greater because we tend to spend more time outdoors, but the UV indexes (AKA the strength of the sun’s rays) are more intense making time spent in the sun more capable of leaving your looking crispy.
While some people can easily catch some rays on the beach with sunscreen protection, others tend to be a bit more susceptible to burned, and an even more susceptible group finds themselves with sun allergies such as polymophic light eruption, which results often in a painful rash on the body.
What is it and who’s most at risk?
“Polymorphic light eruption is known as a sensitivity to certain parts of sunlight exposure,” says board-certified medical doctor Janette Nesheiwat, MD. This condition commonly happens in the spring and summer months when certain parts of the body (neck, chest, backs of hands, arms, legs, and feet) are suddenly exposed to sunlight for the first time in many months. This usually causes a skin rash, she explains, as the immune system perceives the sun’s rays as an outside allergen, and reacts to protect the body.
According to board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, a rash associated with polymorphic light eruption won’t exactly show up right away; usually, it occurs hours or several days after sun exposure. If you are wondering what exactly this kind of rash looks like, she notes that it can be itchy and very painful with noticeable bumps that might even appear as blisters. “This kind of rash can definitely burn or itch,” says Dr. Jaliman. What’s more, headaches and fever could also accompany a sun allergy, according to Dr. Neisheiwat, but the best way to know for sure if you have it is to see a doctor right away.
Commonly, polymorphic light eruption tends to affect women with lighter skin tones most frequently, according to Dr. Nesheiwat, however, genetics also play a big part in predisposition to this condition.
How should you address it?
Dr. Jaliman suggests that the first and most important step to treating polymorphic light eruption is getting a diagnosis from your derm. “We usually make the diagnosis by the way the rash looks, clinical history, and a skin biopsy if necessary,” she explains.
Oral medications, according to Dr. Jaliman, can be necessary if you have a very severe case of a rash. The medication that is usually prescribed is called hydroxychloroquine, she notes, which is an immunosuppressant; however, other topical steroids can be used to treat this condition, as well, she adds.
For those with polymorphic light eruption, Dr. Neishwat suggests that managing symptoms ahead of the rash is the best course of action. That starts with investing in the right protective gear. “Sunblock and protection from the sun with clothing and hats can be more than helpful in keeping this condition under control,” Dr. Nesheiwat suggests.
And beyond loading up with the right equipment, so too, is avoiding peak sunlight hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to prevent unwanted rashes. Any other time of day or night, she suggests regularly reapplying broad-spectrum sunblock that adequately protects against UVA and UVB rays should be more than helpful.
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