Sensitivity to the sun

August 7, 2009 4:56:43 PM PDT
People with fair skin are at a higher risk for skin cancer and need to be more careful about sun protection. But some people with autoimmune diseases are at risk, too as the sun's rays can aggravate immune system problems. Thirty-one-year old Unok Dana doesn't worry now about being in the sun. That wasn't the case when she was diagnosed with lupus, a type of autoimmune disease. She noticed her skin sensitivity after driving in a convertible.

"I wouldn't notice anything until I got home and then a big rash would come," said Unok.

Sensitivity to the sun is a common feature of lupus, and a new report has found the more exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, the more widespread were immune system problems. Rheumatologist Dr. Robin Dibner is careful about her patients' sun exposure.

"Even if they have only the smallest hint of an autoimmune disease, I tell them that the sun is a bad actor, and that they could have a serious flare up of their illness," said Dr. Dibner.

It's not just these illnesses. Skin cancers are the result of lifelong sun exposure. Risk for the worst, malignant melanoma, is linked to the number of severe sunburns one has had as a kid. Wrinkles are caused by sun damage to elastic tissue in the skin. Even on cloudy days, ultraviolet light still gets through and sometimes produces a UV index of seven to eight which is considered high.

But salvation is as close as your nearest hat store. Sunglasses will also keep out UV rays, look for 100% UV blocking. Sun creams with high SPF are key. Put them on an hour before being in the sun, and after swimming. That's what's helped Unok. American Academy of Dermatology

"Now I can wear short sleeves when I go out, not very frequently, but its 100 % different," she said.

The sun causes the skin to make vitamin D. Dr. Dibner warns that with all the focus now on avoiding sun exposure, people should ask their doctors to check their vitamin D levels with a simple blood test. With no hats, glasses or sun blocks, about 10 minutes a day in the sun is enough to make sufficient vitamin D.


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