Stepping out into the glorious sunshine is one of life’s simple pleasures, for most people. But for others, it is quite the opposite.

People with photosensitivity are more at risk from the sun, making exposure to the harmful UV rays dangerous and uncomfortable.

In fact, this abnormal sensitivity to light stretches beyond encounters with the sun, as sufferers can be extremely sensitive to all light, with headaches becoming a familiar foe.

As a result, every day can be a struggle. While medical practitioners continue in their search for the cause of this peculiar affliction, patients grow frustrated from the restrictions their photosensitivity enforces upon them.

So, what can they do?

Is there no other option than to hide away in fear of the light?

The Truth About Photophobia

This term isn’t totally accurate, as phobia infers the person has a genuine fear of light. While those with the condition do suffer discomfort when faced with bright lights, they aren’t exactly vampires running for the safety of dark places.

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Some patients think that lights are too bright, others feel actual pain because of the light. The reality is that everyone has a certain level of sensitivity to light.

When you leave a dark movie theater in the daytime and walk outside into the sun, typically, you will feel a little sensitivity. However, it doesn’t last long.

In the case of someone with photosensitivity, they suffer a sense of sensitivity and discomfort every single day. For many, even normal light can trigger this, causing them pain and disorientation.

Photophobia commonly occurs with migraines. So much so that it is recognized as one of the leading symptoms and, therefore, part of the criteria in diagnosing a migraine.

Causes of Photosensitivity

The condition is triggered by an abnormal reaction to a certain aspect of electromagnetic light. The full electromagnetic spectrum includes:

  • cosmic rays
  • invisible rays, known as ultraviolet radiation (UVR)
  • visible light
  • infrared
  • microwaves
  • radiowaves

There are three different types of UV light:

  • UVC – These are ultrashort wavelength rays that don’t even reach the surface of the earth.
  • UVB – These are short wavelength rays, which cause tan and sunburn.
  • UVA – These longer wavelength rays also cause tan, but more concerning is that they suppress immune reactions in our skin.

While it’s possible to be sensitive to a wide range of radiation, most people with photosensitivity are affected by UVA rays.

The symptoms of photosensitivity occur when a person has been exposed to the sun or extreme light sources. The brighter the light, the more uncomfortable it will be.

What Are the Symptoms?

Depending on how sensitive they are, a person may have mild or severe reactions to light exposure. Some may develop the characteristic rash very quickly, while others may react later.

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Common symptoms of photosensitivity may include:

  • An intense rash or burn after being exposed to extreme light including the sun
  • Weeping at the rash or burn site
  • Blisters
  • Peeling skin
  • Itching sensation

Clinical features will differ depending on what type of photodermatitis the patient has. Some may develop a rash on their arms, neck, and chest, but nowhere on their face. This is known as polymorphic light eruption (PMLE).

Others may only have juvenile spring eruption, where the rash appears only on the top of the ears.

How to Treat Photosensitivity

In most cases, the rash will dissipate on its own after a few days. Over time, many people become more resistant to the effects of the sun, so long as they gradually increase their exposure to it.

When the effects of photosensitivity appear, there are several ways to counter the pain. The easiest solution for relief is to try anti-inflammatory creams, which can be obtained from most pharmacies without a prescription.

However, if the symptoms get worse, especially as summertime rolls round each year, then it may be worthwhile speaking to a doctor. They may be able to identify any underlying causes and then prescribe you a stronger medication.

Skin products may have a negative effect, and so it is a good idea to have a photo-patch test to find out if they are a factor. A more experimental measure of desensitizing your skin is to have some light therapy sessions.

Ultimately, the best thing to do is to take preventive steps before any damage happens. By wearing a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing with long sleeves, you can dramatically reduce the chances of your head being burned, and also keep headaches at bay.

Anyone with photosensitivity should always use broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect their skin. Take care to find a product that only has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These will not absorb UV rays like other sunscreens do.

Being very sensitive to light can make daily life uncomfortable, particularly in summer months. However, with the right precautions, you don’t need to suffer. 

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