Polymorphic Light Eruption – Part 1

What the heck is Polymorphic Light Eruption? (also called Polymorphous Light Eruption, Photosensitivity, Photodermatitis, etc.)

Basically, it’s a condition in which a person has an allergic reaction to sun exposure. I decided to write about this because I receive a lot of questions from people who find a sun allergy to be odd or even imaginary (people try to convince me that I must not know what I’m talking about because after all, you need Vitamin D and the sun is good for you)!

Several years ago, I began to notice that after spending as little as 20 minutes in direct sunlight, I would break out in a rash, usually on my chest. It would itch and be red for about a day and then go away. It was not a sunburn. I believed it to be a minor sun allergy. A bit annoying, but no big deal. However, it was especially strange for a gal who grew up in the Valley of the Sun. How does one suddenly become allergic to the sun?

Last summer, the familiar rash returned, however it did not go away after a day…or a week…or even a month. And not only was my chest red, but my arms began having little raised, itchy bumps. And other parts of my skin not even exposed to the sun started to get itchy. I realized I needed to seek treatment when an aunt touched my arm and quickly drew her hand away in revulsion of the scaly feel of my skin.

When all of this began to happen, I was also in the midst of caring for my mother who was nearing her final months of battling breast cancer. My skin condition seemed to worsen with my level of stress and some family members and friends posited that the severity of my rash might be heightened as a result of the stress.

After several trips to my primary care provider and several failed attempts over several months to treat my rash with Prednisone and topical ointments, I was sent to a dermatologist (of course, it took about five weeks from the time of my referral to even get an appointment). When I finally visited the dermatologist, he took a skin biopsy and blood work to determine if my condition was skin lupus or polymorphic light eruption. Fortunately for me, my diagnosis was the latter. My doctor explained that the skin as an organ acts as a system and even though exposure may occur on one portion of the skin, the reaction may occur in a completely different area.

The bad news was that there was no easy “cure” for my condition. Instead, its treatment involved a life-style change that required me to be more diligent about protecting myself from the sun. I was given prescription medication to ease the effects of the rash, which I’m still using a year later. Although my rash has not gone away, the it is more controlled this summer, less uncomfortable, and less visually noticeable.

I’ll talk about some of the things I’ve done to change my lifestyle as it relates to the sun in my next entry.

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