Photosensitivity can majorly impact the lives of Lupus patients, especially those who live in warm, sunny areas. In this article, learn what photosensitivity is, which Lupus patients it effects, what triggers it, and how to manage Lupus photosensitivity.
What is Lupus Photosensitivity and Who Does It Affect?
About 60% of people with Lupus experience photosensitivity — “an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and other light sources.” Other light sources can include fluorescent lights, photocopiers, and tanning beds. Those with light skin, eyes, and hair are at an increased risk for photosensitivity.
Because of limited exposure to sunlight, people with photosensitivity can become deficient in vitamin D and calcium. You should have your levels checked regularly.
What Triggers Lupus Photosensitivity?
Being exposed to the sun, even for a short period of time, can cause skin rashes like a butterfly rash or hives, itching, burning, blisters, a Lupus flare and organ damage. It can take hours to days before symptoms appear.
Certain medications, like antibiotics, NSAIDs, diuretics, oral diabetes drugs and cardiac medications can cause phototoxicity, which further increases your sensitivity to sunlight. Speak with your healthcare provider about any risks your medications might pose.
Related: Lupus Symptoms You Should Know About
How Can I Prevent and Manage Lupus Photosensitivity?
You can help decrease your risk of reacting to photosensitivity by:
- Wearing tightly woven, dark-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants made of polyester and silk, which reflect UV rays, a wide-brimmed hat, UV protection glasses or sunglasses, and fingerless gloves
- Wearing sun-protective clothing, which is designed to block UV rays and can be found at most sporting goods stores
- Washing your clothes with Sun Guard, which adds UV protection to your clothes
- Applying a thick layer of sunscreen to any exposed skin 30 minutes before you go out. Look for a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or more, provides broad spectrum protection, contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and is hypoallergenic. You should reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, and more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Using an umbrella made with fabric that blocks UV rays to keep you shaded from the sun. If you don’t have an umbrella, try to stay under trees or awnings.
- Avoiding going outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its strongest, or being outside for long periods of time. Even when it’s overcast, clouds don’t block UV rays.
- Avoiding fluorescent lights, photocopiers and especially tanning beds, which can trigger photosensitivity and worsen Lupus symptoms. Always close the lid of a photocopier while it’s in use to protect yourself from UV rays.
- Applying window shades or films that block UV rays to your car and house windows
- Using light bulbs with a color temperature of at least 2700k — usually referred to as “warm white”
- Requesting fluorescent tube filters if you work in a building with fluorescent lights. This should be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.