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Photodermatitis (hypersensitivity to sunlight)

Summer is a time for fun, a time that people look forward to, in order to get a break from their monotonous routine. While many people spend their vacations visiting picturesque locales and beaches, roaming around under the hot sun, few are aware about the effects of harsh sunlight on skin.

23-year-old Sumi approached us with reddish rashes on her face and arms, with itching and burning. Whenever Sumi was out in the sunlight for a long time, she suffered from this problem. The treatments that she had tried only gave her temporary relief. Taking into consideration her severe burning sensation, we gave her a few doses of Arsenic album 30. Regular follow-ups noted a drastic decline in her symptoms even if she went out in the afternoons.

Sumis condition, known as photodermatitis, is the reaction of the skin to UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Symptoms may vary from simple redness or eruptions to oozing and blister formation. The causes can be multiple ranging from prolonged sun exposure or certain underlying conditions like lupus, which makes the skin sensitive to sunlight, to genetic or metabolic factors and reactions to certain medications or chemicals. Risk factors include fair skin and exposure to UV rays from 30 minutes to several hours, especially between 11 am and 3 pm (50% UV radiation is emitted at this time).

Avoid the afternoon sun, particularly between 11 am and 3 pm. Use a sunscreen of SPF-15 or more with a UVA protection factor. Wear full-sleeved cotton clothes, and carry an umbrella and sunglasses whenever you step of the house. Increase your intake of fluids such as water, coconut water and fruit juices, and include juicy fruits and vegetables like cucumber in your diet. If you suspect that one of your medicines could be causing the problem, speak to your doctor. Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish and flax seeds) and antioxidants (found in green tea) are known to be effective against photodermatitis.

Belladonna 30 can be used for sunburns where the skin is bright red with burning sensation and Calendula ointment may be applied locally.

Article by Dr Mukesh Batra
L.C.E.H., F.H.M.A. (U.K.), F.R.S.H. (Med) P.(Lon), M.D.H. (U.S.A.), F.B.I.H.(U.K.)
Published in Hindustan Times on 23 May 2009