Photosensitivity is a condition where blotchiness, itching, or rash occurs when the skin is exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light.

Symptoms of Photosensitivity

When exposed to sunlight, ultraviolet light for suntanning, and in some people, even overhead fluorescent bulbs, the following symptoms appear:

  • Red blotches and bumps
  • Rashes
  • Itching
  • Sunburn

Forms of Photosensitivity

Photosensitivity are classified into 4 categories:

  • Phototoxic medication reaction
    This is photosensitivity caused by the side effects of certain medicines, such as:

    • Doxycycline and tetracycline
    • Quinolone medications, such as ciprofloxacin and ofloxacin

    It can also be caused by the chemicals in certain food when spilled or rubbed on the skin. These foods include:

    • Limes
    • Figs
    • Celeries

  • Photoallergy or photoallergic medication reaction
    In this form, exposure to sunlight triggers an allergic reaction in the exposed skin after they take certain medications. These drugs include:

    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
    • Diuretics (water pills)
    • Sulfa medications

    Other chemicals that can cause photoallergy are found in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, and lotions.

  • Polymorphous light eruption
    In this form of photosensitivity, itchy and red rashes usually form in the first few days of summer with intense sun exposures. As the season continues and with more sun exposures, the skin becomes resistant to rash breakouts.

    This photosensitivity does not depend on prior use of medications or topical chemicals. This condition usually develops between the age of 20 and 40.

    There is a condition similar to this form of photosensitivty that is caused by lupus erythematosus, a disorder of the immune system. Photosensitivity caused by lupus usually occurs thoroughout the summer, whereas polymorphous light eruption occurs only in the first few days of summer.

  • Rare inherited conditions
    These rare forms of photosensitivity include sun-induced hives (solar urticaria) and several forms of porphyrias. In porphyrias, elevated chemicals in the bloodstreams cause burning and stinging of the skin when exposed to light.

Treatments of Photosensitivity

Photosensitivity caused by medications usually resolve itself after the patient is no longer taking them. Take precautions when going outdoors, such as by wearing protective clothings and hats and using lotions with high SPF (sun protection factor).

To minimize the blisters and rashes, use a wet compress to soothe the skin. To minimize itching, oral antihistamines as well as prescription oral/topical corticosteroids can be used.

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