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 the sun, yes, I am allergic to the sun!

I have a condition known as Solar urticaria.

Solar urticaria also known as sun allergy, is a rare allergy to sunlight that causes hives to form on skin that’s exposed to the sun. The itchy, reddish spots or welts usually appear within minutes of sun exposure. They can last for a short time or up to hours.

My condition started as a child.  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 and apply factor 50 sun cream.

As an adult my condition is somewhat controlled. I wear sun protection when the sun is out and if it does flare it is usually not noticeable.

I do from time to time forget to apply my sun cream. This was one of my worst breakouts. It covered all my exposed skin.

My arm on first day of rash.

When a flare like this takes place I have to take 4 times the recommend dose of an antihistamine (doctors orders) to get it under control.

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.

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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