I am not contagious, I am allergic to the sun! – Solar urticaria

This post comes after a person on the checkout of a supermarket asked me “What is wrong with your skin?” “Looks bad, is that contagious?” The look on this persons face was enough to make me feel embarrassed. This person looked at me with caution and when I handed over my money to pay for my shopping, they took the cash quickly in hope not to catch my condition.

I am not contagious, I have an allergy to UV rays, yes, I am allergic to the sun!

I have a condition known as Solar urticaria.

Solar urticaria is a rare condition in which exposure to ultraviolet or UV radiation, or sometimes even visible light, induces a case of urticaria or hives that can appear in both covered and uncovered areas of my skin.

My condition started when I was 12 years old. I was on holiday in the South of France and although I was applying sun cream, I spent a lot of time in the pool and therefore it washed off. I remember visiting a doctor in France and him trying to explain it to my mum.

Since then I have tried to reduce my time in the sun on extra hot days and apply a factor 50 sun cream. I went through a gothic stage in my teens which helped!

As an adult my condition flares up once a year, it is usually not noticeable.

With the Welsh weather being what it is, cloudy one minute, sunny the next, I stupidly forgot to apply my factor 50 the other day and therefore broke out in a rash. It was one of the worst cases I have had in years.

My arm on first day of rash.

Presently I am taking 4 times the recommend dose of an antihistamine (doctors orders) to try and get it under control and I am applying my sun cream.

After 3 days of taking the increased medication my skin is finally calming down. Its not itching and the redness is slowly fading.

What are the symptoms of solar urticaria?

The main symptoms of sun allergy are reddish patches on your skin that itch, sting, and burn. If the hives cover a lot of your skin, you may have other common allergy symptoms, such as:

  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • nausea
  • difficulty breathing

What causes solar urticaria?

The exact cause of solar urticaria is unknown. It occurs when sunlight activates the release of histamine or a similar chemical in your skin cells.

  • You may have an increased risk for solar urticaria if you:
    have a family history of the condition
  • have dermatitis
  • regularly use perfumes, disinfectants, dyes, or other chemicals that may trigger the condition when exposed to sunlight
  • use antibiotics or other medications, including sulfa drugs, that may trigger the condition

Some think that it is a heat rash, but its not. Heat rash commonly appears in these areas:

  • under your breasts
  • in the groin
  • in your armpits
  • between your inner thighs

Solar urticaria, on the other hand, only occurs as a result of exposure to sunlight.

Anyone can become affected by this condition, it may only happen once in your life or it can become chronic. Adults are usually affected however, some children can be affected.

How can you protect yourself?

  • wear a sun cream over factor 40
  • try stay out of the sun on hot days, when it is at its strongest (10am – 4pm)
  • wear a hat and sunglasses
  • wear loose clothing

I am not a medical professional. If you think you are affected by Solar urticaria, please visit your doctor.


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