What is polymorphous light eruption? What are the causes? Who is likely to suffer from it? What can you do to relieve it? Are there any known cures? Here we look at the answers to these and other questions about the condition commonly described as an allergy to the sun.
Please note, this information is for guidance only and must not be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice.
What exactly is polymorphous light eruption?
Polymorphous light eruption – also called polymorphic light eruption is a rash that shows up as a reaction to exposure to sunshine. “Polymorphous” signifies possessing various forms – it can present as small red bumps, blisters or red patches.
Usually the rash comes up on the arms, lower legs or chest. It’s unusual for it to appear on the face. The inflammation is more often than not accompanied by itching or burning. Some individuals also feel flu-like symptoms.
What are the causes of polymorphous light eruption?
The response is caused by ultraviolet light (both UVA and UVB). A mere 20 minutes in strong sunshine can set it off. Because UV light passes through glass, you don’t need to be outdoors to be affected.
The rash generally begins in spring after the skin has been protected by clothes in the course of the winter months. The precise medical cause is not known, but is thought to be linked with the immune system.
Who is likely to suffer from polymorphous light eruption?
Polymorphous light eruption is more commonplace in temperate climates. It affects about three in twenty people in the UK and is more prevalent among women than men and among individuals with fair skin. It usually begins around the age of thirty and subsides in later life.
Sufferers often first become aware of it when they have a holiday in the sun. Keeping out of direct sunlight will invariably prevent it becoming any worse. And the rash will usually go away without any kind of medication within seven to ten days.
As the summer goes on, most people find their tolerance increases and they are able to spend longer in the sun without it causing a reaction.
What can you do to relieve or prevent polymorphous light eruption?
One of the best things to do is stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Wear clothing which keeps skin exposure to the bare minimum and use a decent sun lotion.
Try to acclimatize slowly when those sunny days arrive after the winter. This is especially important if you have experienced a rash such as this before but not had any idea that it could be polymorphous light eruption.
Treatment in severe cases may involve topical ointment steroids or antihistamines. Other kinds of treatment which have been explored include prophylactic light therapy and a course of exposure to a pulsing light-emitting diode. In extreme instances, always seek advice from a qualified clinician.
My mother suffers from PLE. Does that mean I will too?
It’s possible but not definite. Around 15% of sufferers report that one or more other family member also has the problem.
Are there any known cures for polymorphous light eruption?
Cures, no. But antioxidants do seem to offer a glimmer of hope. Beta-carotene is known to increase tolerance to sunlight. So you might choose to make certain your diet incorporates foods high in beta-carotene. Examples include kale, sweet potato, turnip greens, spinach and carrots.
A research project done in 2004 discovered that mixing an antioxidant formulation that included 1% Tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E) with an effective sunscreen turned out to be more effective in curtailing polymorphous light eruption among suffers than sunscreen on its own. As yet no manufacturer has taken this finding into product development. But it might happen one day.
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