Dermatology Expert Forum
Sun Allergies
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Sun Allergies

My skin is very sensitive to sun. I have blue eyes & pale skin, and am allergic to sun. My allergy is 'awaken' only when I burn my skin when I am on the beach or a similar place that has no tree or house shadows. Then I feel a sudden, very strong and irresistable rash all over the place that has been burnt by the sun. I cannot concentrate on anything else except to rash. I am then scrubbing that area usually with the towel but as I rub more, the rash intensifies!! Then I feel as I am going to freak out, since I cannot do anything else except to rub. Please, can anyone tell me how to cope with this?
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Milan:

I hope my reply will not offend you, but what you are describing sounds much more like an obsession than a skin or sun reaction.  There is no sun rash I know of which produces symptoms like the ones you describe.  On the other hand, if you rub an area as vigorously as you say you do, the skin will of course become red and inlamed and itchier.

My suggestion:

1. Stop worrying!
2.  Apply Sarna lotion (OTC) whenver you feel the urge to scratch.
3. If you can't stop thinking about this, show your skin to a dermatologist just to rule out some other skin problem (though I can't imagine any in particular), and then perhaps a psychiatrist to help you sort out any other issues which may be troubling you.

Good luck.

Dr. Rockoff

33 Comments
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Hi Milan,

I sympathize with you, for I have the same problem. About 7 years ago, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Florida. Up until then, I had no problems being out in the sun. I am Italian, and have a naturally darker skin tone, so I would tan beautifully. While on our honeymoon, I started breaking out in this rash on my nose, then my cheeks, my arms, and then my chest. The itching was horrible. After a few days, I couldn't stand the itching any longer, I had tried everything over the counter at the time, and nothing seemed to help, so we went to the emergency room. The Doctor there told me that I had a condition called folliculitis. He said that it was caused from the sun exposure, and that it could go one of two ways, I could go back to my home, which is in Ohio, and I could never experience it again, or I may experience it every time I go out into the sun from now on. Well, it just so happens that I do experience it every time I go out into the sun. My husband and I just got back from a trip to Myrtle Beach, and I broke out more than I ever have in the past. The same places, but this time, my legs broke out as well. The itching is horrible. I went to the drugstore, and found some Hydrocortisone cream 1%, I was told it was the strongest you can get over the counter. It helped with the itching. I don't know about your rash, but after a few days, mine starts to break open. They don't bleed, but they just sit there open. So I decided to mix the hydrocortisone cream with an over the counter antibiotic cream. For the first time in 7 years, the rash was feeling better within a day. It wasn't cleared up, but the itching stopped, and it seemed to heal a lot faster than it had in the past. I have yet to find anything which prevents the rash from breaking out in the first place though. I used a sunscreen with a 45 SPF, and still broke out with the rash.

Well I hope that advice helped.

Michelle
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Michelle,

  Your case sounds horrible!!!! This is insane?! I have sun poisoning, something which is extremely weird considering that im Argentinian and dark skinned. This whole business of sun reactions is really shocking! WHATS WRONG WITH THE WORLD!? WHY IS THIS HAPPENING ALL OF A SUDDEN???

Eddie M.
(FragLord)
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Milan2- I have the same exact reaction to the sun.  Nothing helps the rash, and as I continue to scratch it, the itching intensifies exponentially.  Dr. Rockoff was not very sympathetic to our problem- it is not in your head.  I understand how you cannot think of anything else.  I have never had pain/itching as bad as when I am in the sun.  I get hives and it is only getting worse as the years progress.  When I have the rash, it is such intense pain and itching that I can think of or do nothing but tend to it.  It is horrible and no doctor has ever been able to help.  No over the counter medicine (including any topical lotion or benedril pills, etc.) has been able to help.  Try lightly rubbing the rash with your hand instead of scratching. That seems to help a bit.
This condition does exist though. It is not in your head.  I understand the complete hysteria that can result from such painful and unrelenting itching.  
Dr. Rockoff- It is impossible to stop worrying.  When your entire body is engulfed in a painful, itchy rash that only gets worse when you scratch it, and it is so intense you must scratch it, worrying is natural.  NO OVER-THE-COUNTER medications help.  Nothing.  Maybe a new skin condition has evolved because Milan2 is not the only person suffering from it.
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I also break out in rash when exposed to sun, then a few days later they fester up and itch like the devil. I went to a Dr. several years ago and was tested for Lupus. No Lupus thank goodness. No answer either except a combination of diuretic and sun. I was going to ask the good Dr. but will forgo since you got no helpful information.
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I AM 39 AND HAVE BEEN A SUN WORSHIPER ALL MY LIFE.  ABOUT 4 WEEKS AGO I SUNBURNED MY UPPER BACK.  AFTER THE SUNBURN TONED DOWN I STARTED TO DEVELOP THE SAME KIND OF ITCHY SORES YOU ALL HAVE TALKED ABOUT.  I THOUGHT IT WAS ACNE AT FIRST, BUT IT ITCHED TOO MUCH FOR THAT.  I HAVE TRIED TO DRY UP THE SORES WITH PEROXIDE AND ALCOHOL.  BY THE NEXT MORNING THEY ARE PUFFED BACK OUT AGAIN.  NOT ONLY DO THEY ITCH, BUT THEY ARE ALSO QUITE PAINFUL.  I HAVE TRIED NEOSPORIN, IT DOES HELP WITH THE PAIN, BUT IT DOESN'T GET RID OF THEM.  WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
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Dear Fellow-sun rash victims,
I too have just come back from Cancun with an awesome tan but i ITCH ALL OVER. My face itches,my arms my inside of my legs. When will this go away? Does this also sound like sun itching?It feels so good to scratch but it just makes it worse and then they inflame. If I leave them alone they aren't as bad.It almost looks likwe tiny blisters on the ones I 've scratched the most.Do I need to go to the Doctor?   Thanks very worried
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I first developed the sun rash about 13 years ago.  It is the most intense, painful rash imaginable.  Recently though, instead of this rash, I have developed little blisters that look like spider bites.  They don't itch, but they hurt.  Has anyone experienced anything like this?  Does anyone know how to make them go away?  I have to admit that these bite-like sores are many times better than the rash, though.  The rash may still occur with a sunburn- I've tried to avoid the sun as much as possible this summer.
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First: you are not insane.  Second: Go to your Dermatologist.  I have the same thing.  I was terribly burned 4 years ago and have had to stay out of the sun.  This year was the first year I was allowed back out.  I slowly built up my tolerance with sunscreen and got a discoid white flaky rash over my arms, legs and tops of my feet.  I saw my family MD who diagnosed it as a "discoid" allergic reaction but with an unknown allergen.  He blamed it on soap and left it at that.  He prescribed a topical steriod and have a nice day.  Thing is: it didn't work.  Neither did hydrocortisone 1% OTC, or Benadryl 50mg.  I wound up with another rash, this time red, bumpy and itchy like crazy on my face (forehead and left side).  I finally went to a dermatologist yesterday.  He took one look at me and knew right away.  I am undergoing treatment with DiproleneAF at .05% three times a day and after one dose it is helping.  He told me to avoid the sun, long sleeves and hat and the whole nine yards, no sun if I could help it.  Although there are sunscreens, he said for my case it would not be enough, since I was exhibiting signs of 2 types of sun allergy.  He said it is a systemic reaction to the UV.  Take heart, you guys!  There is treatment.  SEE A DERMATOLOGIST!!!  But living without the sun wont be easy.  Best of luck to all of you.
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I have a severe reaction/allergy to the sun also.  People think its crazy but thankfully my Dr didn't think so.  I was told that the sun triggers a reaction that makes my immune system go kaput and I get the blisters, flu like symptoms, and worst of all the fever blisters.  My lips are usually covered with blisters that turn into scabs which itch like crazy.  BUT THERE IS A SOLUTION.  I take zoviraz in the pill form and then also the ointment for my lips (whicht has also helped the blisters on my shoulders and face heal much faster)also zovirax.  Since I have found this out about 4 years ago I CAN go out into the sun again (with medication on hand,SPF 45 sunscreen, and a hat).  Our body's react differently to differnt medications and allegeries, but I suggest you ask your Dr.
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I have suffered from sun rashes since the age of 10. I just came back from vacation in Moab, UT. The UV index was through the roof, and I got one of the worst occurances of all time! I went to see my Dr. yesterday, who prescribed a strong topical steroid. It seems to be working. The steroids come in varying strengths. If you don't get results, you should try asking for a higher dosage.

I completely understand and sympathize with those driven crazy by the itch: it's really hard not to scratch it. I find myself itching it without even realizing I'm doing it.
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This rash sounds just like the one I have from the sun, I have found no over the counter medications help..one drugest thougt I had chicken pox....every summer..I do not think so..The best thing I have found so far for the itch and to dry up the blisters is calomine lotion..good luck
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Thanks so much for all of you who wrote in about your sun rashes! The blisters are a yearly thing for me for about the past 5 years. The only things I know have changed are the following:
I had shingles and was treated with a prescription that said to stay out of the sun for two years after. I did, but when I returned to being outdoors I got the rashes.
I also now have fibromyalgia.
I wonder if the immune system function has something to do with all this? I also heard taking Lysine before going out in the sun plus sunscreen to build up a slow tan is very helpful. I am olive complected and have never had trouble with the sun before. This is definitely hard to get used to. If anyone has any other things that may help or have had a doctor truly explain what's going on, please keep the information coming!
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I have great sympathy for all of you.  Right now I am covered with whelps.  It will start off like a small bump(like an insect bite)and in no time at all it has spread all over my body.  Very INTENSE ITCHING AND PAIN AND BURNING.  It first started 5 years ago when I spent too much time out in the sun.  There was no relief until a pharmacist friend of my dads gave me "METHYLPREDISOLONE TABLETS".  The first dose is 6 tablets the first day, 5 the next day and so forth until they are gone.  This is the only relief for me.  It has only happened twice, right now is the 2nd time. I just started taking the pills last night, they helped for a while, I did get some sleep.  I'm writing this at 4 a.m. because I awoke itching in a misirable state.  Got up and soaked in Aveena, doesn't help much, but every little bit helps. Just took another pill and hoping it will give relief soon.  The only thing different this time is that I didn't spend any considerable time in the sun.  Don't what it is, I do know whatever it is is in my bloodstream and almost unbearable and some type of allergic reaction.  Don't let someone tell you that it is in your mind, I can't believe that.  Sorry this letter is so long.  
Lena

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I too suffer from sun allergy which is exremely uncomfortable and distressing during the shirt few months that I experience sunshine. I was always used to sunbathing in my youth and could tolerate the sun very well. I feel my problem started when I got a transfusion of 4 pints of blood after my 3rd child. My family doctor could not treat this allergy with anything other than steroids, which I refuse to use. I went to the Canary Islands on my holidayd one year and developed such a bad reaction to the sun that I had to see a doctor there. He gave me both an intramuscular antihistamine and intraveneous calcium over four days. By the 3rd day the rash had subsided and the itch had gone and I was able to enjoy the rest of my holiday. I have since told numerous doctors about this solution but they all remain unconvinced. Has anyone else used this treatment, please let me know.
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This is specifically for Lena...but a response to all...I was recently diagnosed with a sun allergy. It has gotten progressively worse over time. Initially SPF 30 could control it, but this last flair up, my face was so swollen that I could barely open my eyes. My doctor put me on a Methelpredisolone taper as well, and mine is improving, but steroids take time and should NOT be used other than prescribed, they can cause serious side effects if abused, nor should they be discontinued suddenly.

Good Luck to all,
Cindy
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I too suddenly broke out in a few bumps that looked like I had been bitten by a bug. The bumps are hard underneath & then get a white blister that I end up scratching in my sleep that turn it into sores. I have tried all over the counter anti itch medicines, Aveeno, antibiotic creams, etc. I went to a dermatologist who said I have "Prurigo Nodularis." It is a chronic inflammatory skin disease. He has prescribed Allegra 180mg,Hydroxyz HCL 25mg, Diprolene AF 0.05%, & now Embeline 0.05 cream & Vibramycin 100mg, & I received a shot of cortizone. I wish I could tell you I have improved but I can't. I have been told to stay out of the sun that this could be a result of over exposure to the sun in my life (I am 47 & live in Florida) & that it could be a result of stress as well. (which I do have a lot of at the moment) My girlfriend has been trying to find information on the web for me but most of the good information is on the dermatologists web sites for doctors only. When the blisters heal they form a scar that is hard. I am still going to the dermatologist trying to stop this as it is spreading now in spite of all of the medicines. I was told you can get anywhere from 2 to 200 of these things & they itch like crazy & keep me up at night. I hope that this helps anyone that might have the same thing & if I come up with something that works I will post it.
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I have the same problem.  The rash can drive you insane!  I first got in while on vacation in Hawaii this year.  zi went to the local drugstore and they told me to use Cortisone cream topically and ALSO take Benadryl for allergies orally.  This relieved the pain almost immediately.  I still had to avoid the sun for the remainder of my vacation, though.  Best of luck to you all.
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My 9 year old son has developed a sun allergy and his itching has been keeping him up at night.  His pediatrician prescribed a low dose of Prednosone which seems to be slowly helping.  Is this something that he will need to deal with his whole life (ie. staying out of the sun) or has anyone heard of a person growing out of this sensitivity?
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I too am allergic to the sun.  Mainly on my arms, neck and face.  I have had this problem for the past 20 years or so.  I have managed to help the situation by applying suncreen all over my arms neck and face before going outside.  This helps extremely well.  Once I forgot and was out in the sun and my arms puffed up from swelling so bad and I had small pustule bumps all over my arms including redness and itching.  I too applied hydrocortisone 1% 3 times a day.  It took about one week to completely heal.  Because of my discomfort with the sun I really and trully hate the summer months.  I prefer cloudy days at which time I don't have a problem.  I believe more people are becoming allergic because of the whole in our ozone layer which is causing more dangerous sun rays to come in contact with us.  Wishing all could get better.
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My 12 year old daughter was just diagnos with polymorphous light eruptions.(sun allergy.) She was only 7 years old when they started with little bumps that look like blisters. For 5 years the doctors have been treating it as Atopic dermatitis until we finally found a good derm at a Unversitity that has a program called Grand Rounds. That where about 20 or more dermatologist come in at look at the skin then decide what would be the best treatment.I know exactly what you people are going through my daughter itch so bad.I would try everything to keep her from scracthing.Were still new to this new diagnos condition so her new derm is working with us to get her cleared up.My advise is to find a really good dermatologist at a Unversitity>Good luck.
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Milan and others,

Like many of you I experience the same reaction after being exposed to the sun. It started four years ago during winter! At first I thought I was sunburnt, but soon realised it was a different, distinctive reaction to the sun. Usually it appears on exposed skin, but can also occur under clothing, or even sitting under fluorescent lighting. My skin starts to feel strange, a warm boiling sensation which turns into a terrible urge to itch, then hives appear. The skin
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I have a question. I went to a Dr. who said I'm allergic to the sun. I'm wondering if my  legs are covered with
long pants can my legs still break out if my chest is
exposed to the sun and breaks out?

Donna
***@****
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Dear Doc,

There IS a rash that IS result of the sun for various people, and I am one of them.  I developed it back in the 80's after laying in the sun, as I had throughout my whole life, and then developed a rash all over the areas that had been exposed to the sun.  BACK THEN they said they knew it was a sun allergy, and the rash I experienced, and still experience from time to time, did worsen when rubbed.  For you to tell this person that they were paranoid or obsessed, or whatever, seems to me to be quite highly unprofessional, and arrogant.  I no longer want to seek information from this website after reading your answer.  Why is it that so many doctors act as if they have all the answers.  The strange thing is that I have seen many other people develope these rashes this woman has described, why haven't you?  HMMM.....
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Question:  Again, I experience rashes, but does anyone else have a weakened immune system due to some other factor?  I'm not looking for specifics, but just looking for a pattern.
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TO THE LADY WHO GETS THE FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS WHEN IN THE SUN, SO DO
I. I AM FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO TRAVEL TO AND FROM WORK BECAUSE THE SUN AFFECTS ME SO.  I ONLY GET AN ITCHY RASH ON MY ARMS WHEN THEY ARE UNCOVERED, BUT THE OTHER SYMPTOMS ARE BECOMING DEBILITATING.  MY SKIN BURNS UP TO AN HOUR AFTER I AM OUT OF THE SUN, I AM BREATHLESS, JOINTS ACHE, HAVE WEAKNESS, DIZZINESS, AND FEEL DEHYDRATED AFTER BEING IN THE SUN/HEAT FOR ONLY A FEW MINUTES.  DOCTORS DON'T SEEM TO UNDERSTAND HOW BAD IT IS.  DESPERATE FOR ANSWERS AND CONVERSATION WITH SOMEONE WHO UNDERSTANDS.
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I can't believe that there are so many of you out there.  I too have experienced the same thing.  My family vacationed in FL in May, and the last two days, I had to spend in the shade.  I was miserable for days.  The rash itched soooooo bad and nothing I tried would help.  The more I scratched, the more swollen the bumps became.  They were on my legs, arms and face.  The ones on my face lasted much longer.  My son got married in June and I had to cover my face with a ton of makeup so the bumps wouldn't show.  If any of you know how to prevent this, please post it on this site. As of now, no more trips to the beach!!!
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The doctor has, obviously, never had this condition!  I, too, get a sun-reaction rash with tingling, burning, and itching beyond control, especially in the spring.  Feels like a million needle pricks at times, and scratching only makes it worse.  Mine previously occurred primarily in the spring, and as a child equated it with a reaction to spring-blossoming shrubs.  Wrong!  It is from sun exposure, and seems to lessen somewhat as summer progresses.  Recently, it seems to be lasting more of the year, and now every fall after there is no more sun exposed skin, a hive-like rash develops on my upper arms.  I try to use sunscreens, but they do wear off with extensive periods of yard work.  Wish someone had an answer.
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I have a friend with a similar problem. She has spent the last few years getting a lot of sun. All of a sudden she has a terrible reaction to even the smallest amount of sunlight. It causes swelling around her mounth and itching. She consulted a doctor in Europe who talked about a treatment being studied at a university there. The treatment involves rebuilding your immune system with increased does of light. I have looked on the internet and found something called PUVA therapy which may be the same type of treatment. It may be worth checking out....I sympathize for you as I am a sun worshipper. Good luck to all of you with this terrible problem. I am going to check back to see if anything new shows up to help my friend!
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I also felt that the Dr. was quite insensitive to this problem.  I am a 48 year old Hispanic woman, fair skin, and green eyes.  I would tan and loved being in the sun, up until about 8-10 years ago.  I also break out in little bumps whereever the sun hits my skin.  I was wondering do any of you have egg allergies?  I developed an egg allergy around the same time and I always wondered if there was any connection.
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I had no idea I had something in common with so many.  My rash
broke out after a morning of unprotected sun in the Caribbean.
The remaining vacation was marred by hiding from the sun (and
jokes accusing me of being an 'undead' person).  Cortisone cream
topically and Benydryl have worked on subsequent events. I vaguely recall an herb one can take for 30 days prior to vacation to prevent sunburn.  I'm also inclined to believe stress has
a major negative impact on a body and taking Vitamin B to counteract the stress.  At 45 I have just discovered an allergy to mold (a major problem since I live in Oregon, USA!)Does anyone know of an herbal preparation for sun?
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