Solar urticaria explained: Everything you need to know about being allergic to the sun

Solar urticaria is a rare skin condition which prevents sufferers form being in the sun. [Photo: Getty]

There’s nothing quite like basking in the sunshine, which – rather unbelievably –  us Brits are getting to do a lot lately.

Feeling the warm rays hitting your skin is restorative in many ways, but imagine if sitting in the sun could cause you to you to get itchy red patches on your skin, your blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels, and give you difficultly breathing?

This is what solar urticaria sufferers have to go through every time they get caught outside in the sun without an umbrella.

So what is solar urticaria?

Solar urticaria is essentially an allergy to the sun.

It’s a very specific type of ‘urticaria’, or hives, that triggers the skin when exposed to sunlight.

The condition is found worldwide, and though it can affect people of any ages, the most common sufferers are between age 20 and 40.

One sufferer is Emma Traynor who discussed her condition with the BBC.

The 27-year-old – who developed the condition three years ago – has to carry an umbrella with her at all times just in case she gets caught out in the sun.

“I have a 40 minute drive to work and I do react through car windows, so being caught in traffic is really stressful because I know it’s increasing the amount of time I’ve got where I can fully protect myself.”

What are the symptoms of solar urticaria?

Before you think you’ve just got some really bad sunburn and heatstroke, there are some tell-tale signs to differentiate solar urticaria.

The name ‘urticaria’ is a nod to the main symptom: reddish patches on your skin that itch, sting, and burn.

These flat red marks can develop to raised white weals on the skin which can gather at the edge of clothing.

Solar urticaria may even develop on skin covered by clothing, particularly if the clothing is thin and the rash may last up to a day, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.

Sometimes (but rarely) the rash is accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, headaches, vomiting, low blood pressure and difficulty breathing.

Emma told the BBC: “Last year I was suffering with a symptom where I was extremely exhausted when I reacted and I would literally fall asleep mid-conversation.”

The main symptom of the condition is reddish patches on your skin that itch, sting, and burn. [Photo: Getty]

How can solar urticaria be treated?

For Emma, relying on UV protective clothing, which she says are like “sun scream but in your clothes,” is one the main ways she treats her condition.

Otherwise, treating solar urticaria involves a big change in lifestyle.

BAD recommends spending time in the shade between 10am and 3pm and wearing clothing that is made from tightly woven cloth, long sleeves, shoes instead of sandals, and a hat (ideally brimmed).

Extreme suffers should wear cloves particularly when driving.

Just like any other allergy, solar urticaria can be treated with Antihistamines. Once the reaction begins to develop, antihistamine tablets will block the effects of the histamine release and prevent the painful effects from progressing.

Can normal sunscreen protect sufferers?

Short answer: no.

As BAD explains, sunscreens are formulated to protect against ultraviolet B and A light so may not be effective on those with solar urticaria which is triggered by visible light.

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