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Why you shouldn’t mix sunshine with certain medications

Posted on April 06 2017

Why you shouldn’t mix sunshine with certain medications

It may be a good idea to read those package inserts when you bring home a new prescription drug. Certain drugs may have undesirable side effects with exposure to sun.

Sun-sensitizing drug reactions falls into two categories, photo allergic and photo toxic.

Photo allergic reactions occur when skin is exposed to sun after certain medicines are applied to the skin's surface. UV rays may trigger your body to interpret a substance as an allergen. The itchy eczema-type rash develops 24 to 48 hours after sun exposure. The allergic reaction may also spread to unexposed parts of the body.

Phototoxic reactions, on the other hand, are the more common drug reactions.

Medications may have been injected, taken orally, or applied to the skin. The phototoxic rash will looks like a bad sunburn as opposed to the photo allergic eczema rash.

The reaction can occur within minutes or it may take hours of sun exposure. Only the sun-exposed areas of the body will be affected. In some people, symptoms can persist up to 20 years after the medication is stopped.

Not every person who uses these drugs has a reaction. If it does happen, it can be a one-time occurrence, or it can happen each and every time the drug is taken along with sun exposure. If you’ve previously suffered a reaction, be cautious about sun exposure, even if you have stopped taking the drug. The effects can sometimes linger long after the drug is stopped.

The most common photo toxic drugs are amiodarone (Cordarone, a heart medication). NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen), and the tetracycline family. Topical form of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause a reaction, but so can some systemic medications. Fragrances can cause photo allergic reactions in some people and, surprisingly, sunscreens.  

People with HIV are among the most likely group to experience sun sensitivity to drugs. Sun exposure can also worsen or even precipitate autoimmune disorders, such as lupus.

How to protect yourself

Use sunscreen. Choose a water-resistant product that’s labeled “broad spectrum,” which means that it’s formulated to protect against UVA and UVB radiation. Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before you go outdoors to give it time to soak into your skin. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or perspiration.

Cover up with sun-protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.

Seek shade. Avoid outdoor activities while the sun’s rays are at their peak. As a rule of thumb, if your shadow is shorter than you are, the UV light is at its strongest.

If you think you may have suffered a photo allergic reaction, enlist your doctor’s help in identifying the culprit and finding an alternative. For example, the sunscreen ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide typically don’t cause allergic reactions.

Have discussion with your doctor or pharmacist about whether it would be appropriate to stop with your medications before you venture outdoors on an excursion.

 

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