Sun allergies, also known as photosensitivity, can affect children for a variety of reasons. Unlike sunburn, which happens when the body is exposed to more sunlight than it can handle, sun allergies are caused by an immune system reaction. There are several causes of sun allergies, as well as several types of this reaction.
Causes of Sun Allergies in Children
Photosensitivity has been linked to several causes, including:
- Autoimmune diseases such as lupus
- Certain prescription medications, such as oral and topical antibiotics, diuretics and birth control pills
- Certain herbal supplements, such as St. John’s Wort
- Exposure to chemicals and fragrances
- Porphyria, a genetic disease that can affect the skin and is sometimes hereditary
Types of Sun Allergies
Several conditions fall under the broad category of sun allergies. One such condition is solar urticaria. This is a rare form of photosensitivity that usually affects young women; however it can also be found in children and in some cases, men. This condition manifests itself as large, itchy red hives on sun exposed skin.
Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) usually firsts manifests itself in young adults and also affects more women than men. It is characterized by an itchy rash on skin that has been exposed to the sun, and is prevalent in the spring and summer months. A different type of PMLE is hereditary and affects people of Indian descent in North, Central and South America. This type of sun allergy, known as actinic prurigo, usually starts in childhood.
Photoallergenic eruption is triggered by chemicals, fragrances or medicines applied to the skin or taken orally. In addition to certain prescription drug triggers, sun allergies have also been linked to reactions to ingredients in nonprescription medications like Advil and Aleve.
Protecting Children with Sun Allergies
Children love to play and explore outside, so how can parents allow this while at the same time, protecting them from a sun allergy?
In most cases, it is not necessary to keep a child with a sun allergy indoors until the sun goes down. Once a sun allergy has been linked to a certain fragrance, ointment or drug, then the obvious solution is to avoid using that substance. In cases where the sun allergy is hereditary or caused by a disease, the following precautions can help:
- Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is the strongest
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and lip sunblock of SPF 20 or higher
- Wear clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible, such as long pants and shirts
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection
Helping a child understand their condition may be difficult for parents. They may wonder why they can’t play outside all of the time like other children and sadly, may face ridicule. It may help to get tips from the child’s doctor and to find a support group, whether online or in person. The most important thing is to allow them to lead as normal a life as possible.