Overview on photosensitivity

12 August 2016
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12 August 2016, Comments: 0

Photosensitivity is characterized as extreme sensitivity to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun and other sources of light. Many individuals are at risk for developing sunburn after prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Being exposed to the UV rays of the sun can lead to skin damage and even skin cancer. Individuals who have photosensitivity might end up with skin rashes or burns even after minimal exposure to the sun.

Types of photosensitivity

There are certain chemicals that can add up to sensitivity to the sun. These can trigger 2 various types of photosensitivity reactions such as the following:


The indications vary from minimal or severe. The usual symptom is an amplified rash or sunburn.

  • Phototoxic – these reactions are triggered when a new chemical in the body interacts with the UV rays of the sun. Certain medications such as tetracycline and doxycycline are the usual causes of this reaction. A skin rash that manifests appears similar to a severe sunburn usually within 24 hours of exposure to the sun.
  • Photoallergic – these reactions can also develop as a side effect of certain medications. These develop due to chemicals present in sunscreen and beauty products. Take note that these reactions to the sun might take a few days for a rash to develop after exposure to the sun.

What are the indications of photosensitivity?

The indications vary from minimal or severe. The usual symptom is an amplified rash or sunburn. The rashes may or may not trigger itchiness. In some instances, a sunburn can be severe that it involves blistering. In addition, weeping of the skin and peeling can also occur.

The degree of exposure to the sun needed for a reaction to occur varies. In some, minimal exposure can trigger a rash or burn while others can endure prolonged exposure until a reaction occurs.

What are the causes?

Photosensitivity is a usual side effect of various medications such as chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics and even diuretics.

Medical conditions that can cause photosensitivity include the following:

Polymorphous light eruption – Individuals who have this condition can end up with an itchy rash upon exposure to the sun. As sun exposure continues and UV tolerance builds up, the symptoms generally manifest less often.

Lupus erythematous – This is a connective tissue disease that causes reddened patches, lumps and purplish spots on regions of the skin exposed to the sun.

Actinic prurigo – This condition can lead to the development of reddened bumps after exposure to the sun that can turn into scale-like patches. This condition can manifest all year-round even in the winter season where there is minimal exposure to the sun.


Once a skin reaction has already advanced, the treatment is aimed to reduce uneasiness and skin tenderness. Over-the-counter pain medications can alleviate the pain and the application of a prescribed corticosteroid cream can reduce the inflammation.

Certain chemicals can lead to photosensitivity and must be avoided. These chemicals are usually present in some medications and products such as those used in chemotherapy. Nevertheless, it is not possible to avoid these medications.

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