So you’ve spent too much time out in the sun and are now a fetching shade of lobster red.
Is that just regular old sunburn, or could you be allergic to the sun?
Sun allergy is a real thing, and few of us are aware of what it actually entails.
Being allergic to sunlight isn’t just hating warm weather. It’s a physical reaction on the skin that isn’t usually dangerous, but can cause some pain and irritation.
Dr Clare Morrison, GP and medical advisor at Medexpress, explains: ‘Sun allergy is a condition in which sun exposure causes a reaction in the skin.
‘Polymorphic light eruption is the most common type, particularly in young fair-skinned women.
‘It usually starts in spring, and affects parts of the body that have been covered during the winter, but which are now exposed, such as the arms and neck.
‘Early signs and symptoms include itching, redness, soreness, and rashes, which may include small red bumps or blisters. These occur within minutes or hours after sun exposure.’
It can be tricky to diagnose sun allergies, as the symptoms can vary from person to person. While one person might have a rash, another might just have seriously sore skin even if they’re loaded up with SPF.
The key to recognising sun allergy is noticing that symptoms are triggered by exposure to sunlight. To test this, simple cover up an area of skin and see if the symptoms improve.
Along with pain and irritation, having a sun allergy can affect your health in another way.
Having uncomfortable reactions to the sun can make people avoid going outside when the clouds are gone, which can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. Those who avoid the sun due to an allergy may need to take a vitamin D supplement – a GP can perform a blood test to check your levels.
The way to protect yourself from sun damage, whether in the form of sunburn, an allergic reaction, or otherwise, is to block the sun’s harmful rays from penetrating the skin.
Wear suitable clothing, use sunblock with a high SPF, and stay indoors on especially sunny days.
Common symptoms of sun allergy:
- Painful skin
- Tiny bumps on the skin
- Scaly, crusted, or bleeding skin
Some sun allergy symptoms can be easily confused with other summer ailments, such as hay fever, eczema, and insect bites. They can manifest in similar ways, so it’s important to work out what’s causing your pain before you go ahead with any DIY remedies.
‘Summer is also time when we get hot and sweaty, potentially putting us at risk of yeast infections,’ says Clare. ‘We also spend more time outdoors, increasing exposure to pollens and grasses, which can cause hay fever, urticaria (hives), eczema and itching; and also insect bites.
‘To soothe these symptoms, keep out of the sun, wear thin layers of cotton clothing, keep cool, and shower daily in warm water. Itchy skin can be eased by using an unscented moisturiser or calamine lotion.
‘Provided the triggers are avoided, sun allergy symptoms will generally go away without treatment within a few days.
‘However, if the symptoms are particularly severe or persistent, do check with your doctor, in case medical treatment is required.’
Summer is tough and your health needs to be a priority. Do all the stuff you know you should – drink plenty of water, take time in the shade, wear sunscreen – but do go to a doctor if you’re concerned.
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