Photodermatitis (Sun Poisoning): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Sun poisoningThe sun. Giver of life, heat, and energy. It was there before we were born, and it will be there after we’ve all passed on. And, on a good day, it allows us to head out to the beach or a patio with friends, a few drinks, and fun. But if you suffer from photodermatitis, otherwise known as sun poisoning, the sun can be a bit of a nuisance. Photodermatitis is essentially an interesting form of contact allergic dermatitis, where the allergen is the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Avoiding the sun is no easy task. So, is there anything that can be done? Think of this as your beginner’s guide to photodermatitis. From sun poisoning causes, to sun poisoning symptoms, to sun poisoning treatment, we will cover all the basics so that you’ll know if you have it and what can be done about it.

Photodermatitis Categories

One of the first things you should know about photodermatitis is that the condition comes in four different categories: exogenous chemical or drug reactions, metabolic or genetic photodermatoses, idiopathic photodermatoses, and systemic and cutaneous diseases.

1. Exogenous Chemical or Drug Reactions

This is a photosensitivity to the sun that is due to a drug reaction or ingestion/contact with certain plants. Essentially, a medication or drug you’re taking is making your skin sensitive to UV rays, or you’ve run into a plant that carries that effect with your skin.

2. Metabolic or Genetic Photodermatoses

In basic terminology, your allergy to UV rays is inherited. The more complicated explanation is a reaction due to pellagra (niacin malabsorption and deficiency), xeroderma pigmentosum (rare genetic-based sensitivity to sunlight), or variegate porphyria (disorder of the liver enzymes).

3. Idiopathic Photodermatoses

This is the most common category to affect children and young adults, and out of those affected, twice as many will be female. It usually manifests as chronic actini dermatitis, polymorphic light eruptions, actinic prurigo, and solar urticaria.

4. Systemic and Cutaneous Diseases

In this category, preexisting acne, herpes, or eczema is made worse by UV rays.

What Are the Causes of Photodermatitis?

There are actual photodermatitis causes beyond the categories explained above. These can be summed up by four classifications:

1. Phototoxic

Phototoxic means the skin is sensitive to UV rays, mainly as a result of medication use. The effects on the skin are not immediately noticeable, and can take a few minutes to a few hours to kick in.

2. Polymorphous Light Eruptions (PLE)

This classification is characterized by skin eruption due to UV rays and exposure to sunlight. It usually takes the form of a bad rash or hives.

3. Immunologic Diseases

This type is made up of diseases that will either cause photodermatitis or worsen it. These diseases can include solar urticarial, systemic lupus erythematosus, and pellagra.

4. Photoallergic

This is an allergic reaction that takes place as you are ingesting and/or applying a substance while in sunlight. For example, you may be spraying on perfume or taking a medication while out in the sun and have a reaction.

What Are the Symptoms of Sun Poisoning?

We’ve touched on some symptoms in the above sections, but there are several photodermatitis symptoms to be aware of when diagnosing sun poisoning. Most of the symptoms are skin-based, and can be painful and irritating. These symptoms can include:

  • Burning sensation on your skin
  • Itchy rashes.
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Dry, scaly skin patches.
  • Lesions that look similar to eczema.
  • Development of dark skin patches on your skin, called hyperpigmentation.

As you can see, none of it sounds particularly comfortable or appealing. But, is there anything that can be done to treat sun poisoning?

Treating Photodermatitis

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