Are You Allergic to the Sun?

Your idea of a perfect summer day may include lounging on the beach, going for a swim, and soaking up the sun. But if you suffer from sun allergies, your symptoms could inhibit you from heading outside to partake in these and other activities.

4 Types of Sun Allergy Rashes

You don't have to hibernate indoors or risk getting a sun allergy rash. There are different types of sun allergies and depending on the one you experience, and there are simple things you can do to keep your symptoms at bay:

1. The most common type of sun allergy is called polymorphic light eruption, also known as sun poisoning. Unlike some types of sun poisoning that actually refer to extreme sunburn, this involves an immune system reaction to the sun that causes yellow or white bumps to break out on your face, neck, arms, and hands. Women are often more susceptible to polymorphic light eruption than men. For both sexes, the symptoms typically occur a few hours after exposure to sunlight. In most cases, the discomfort can linger for a few days and then will eventually resolve on its own. People prone to this type of sun allergy should limit sun exposure, particularly in tropical climates or areas known for particularly strong sunlight.

2. Solar urticaria is typically seen in older folks and causes hives and blisters. In extreme cases, it can also lead to wheezing, dizziness, and even loss of consciousness. Often with solar urticaria, it's not only areas of skin exposed to the sun that are vulnerable to the problem, but even covered parts could be affected. Symptoms usually occur almost immediately upon sun exposure, and will often resolve within an hour or two of going indoors.

3. A common sun allergy reaction in children that also affects adults, too, is actinic prurigo, which is a condition that causes raised red skin patches that blister and ooze and can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable. Symptoms can occur on the face, neck, and hands, and in some cases, even eyes and lips. Treatment usually requires avoiding the sun and also using a cream to treat the itching. Many people who suffer from actinic prurigo will have flare-ups not only in the summer months but also throughout the year.

4. Chronic actinic dermatitis leads to dry thick, patches of skin on the face, neck, and scalp. It's more likely to occur in people with allergies to other things such as plants, sunscreen, and perfumes. If you're prone to chronic actinic dermatitis, you'll need to avoid intense sunlight. The good news is that some people's reaction can lessen or even resolve over time, so you may find the sun easier to handle as you age.

Causes of Sun Allergies

Your doctor should be able to identify your sun allergy rash and determine what's causing it. Many sun allergies are hereditary, so while you might not be able to completely prevent the problem, you can at least try to limit its occurrence. Certain medications can make you more susceptible to getting a sun allergy rash. Fragrances, deodorants, and some cleaners can also increase sun sensitivity.

Take Control of Sun Allergies

The best way to prevent most types of sun allergies is to stay inside on days when the sun is especially strong. Plan outdoor activities for later in the day, when the rays aren't as potent. (Avoid being in the sun between 10:00a.m. and 4:00p.m.) When you do head outside, cover up as much as you can, wear long sleeves and pants if possible, and have a wide-brim hat and sunglasses as a regular part of your daily dress code.

For areas of skin that will be exposed to the sun, layer on a hypoallergenic sunscreen that offers a high level of protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Your doctor can recommend something that's appropriate for your skin type and sensitivity, since different sun allergy causes can require different types of protection. If your sun allergies are related to any products you use, your doctor may be able to recommend a safer alternative.

Keep in mind that while many sun allergy rashes resolve on their own, some people may need a corticosteroid cream to help control swelling and itching. Over-the-counter creams should be enough for a mild case of sun allergies, but for more severe symptoms, you may require a prescription-strength treatment, antihistamines, or even a course of oral steroids.

Sources: Summertime Skin Rashes. N.d. Web. 13 July 2012.

Mayo Clinic. "Sun Allergy." 29 April 2010. Web. 13 July 2012.