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Sun Poisoning

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Other Types of Sun Poisoning

Sun poisoning may also refer to two types of reactions to sunlight:

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). PMLE is a reaction that does not appear to be linked to drugs or diseases. It happens in people who are at risk and who are exposed to intense sunlight that they're not used to. For example, people living in northern climates could experience this if taking a winter vacation in a tropical climate.

Symptoms are a severe skin rash, usually appearing several hours after going out in the sun. The rash may be itchy and include:

  • Small bumps over the sun-exposed areas of the body
  • Dense clumps of bumps
  • Hives, usually on the arms, lower legs, and chest

An inherited form of PMLE occurs in Native Americans. It can last from spring until fall. Symptoms at first include redness, burning, and itching, which usually last 2 or 3 days but can persist for weeks. Other symptoms may begin within a few hours of sun exposure but go away in a few hours. They include:

  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Treatment for PMLE depends on its severity. Other than staying out of the sun and protecting yourself when you are in the sun, you may not need treatment. The rash can clear by itself within 7 to 10 days.

Solar urticaria. Symptoms may develop within minutes of exposure to sun. If large areas of skin are involved, symptoms may include:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Raised areas on the skin (hives or wheals)
  • Wheezing
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness

Although the rash usually goes away within hours, you may experience the reaction off and on throughout the years. Antihistamines can treat some cases, but see your doctor for advice.

Other treatment or prevention for PMLE or solar urticaria may include:

  • Steroids that go on your skin
  • Sunscreen that says "broad-spectrum" on the label, which means it protects against the sun's UVA and UVB radiation
  • Phototherapy with psoralen UV light (PUVA) to desensitize skin to UV light

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on November 21, 2014
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