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Skin Care and Diseases

Possible sun poisoning

08/24/2006

Question:

My mom recently went to the beach and got really burnt. She thinks she may have sun poisoning on her ankles. The are swollen and have a red rash on them. It has almost been a week and the symptoms to not seem to be going away. Does it sound like sun poisoning, and what should she do to treat it? Thanks!

Answer:

Your mother may have a type of sun poisoning called Polymorphous Light Eruption. Women are more likely to get this than men. It occurs in susceptible individuals when they are exposed to sunlight that is more intense than usual, for example as in the first time you go out in the sun during the summer or when you expose a body part to sunlight that has no prior sunlight exposure. It may also occur if you travel to a higher latitude or lower latitude such as to a country closer to the equator where the sunlight has more strength.

The feet and ankles are especially susceptible because sunscreen can easily be accidentally rubbed or washed off. Normally the resulting skin-rash reaction heals within 7-10 days with no treatment as long as additional sun exposure is avoided. In the future using sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays is mandatory. (Sunlight is made up of UVA and UVB rays). Make sure the sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA since these protective agents are more effective in preventing these breakouts. As long as she doesn't have any other health issues, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen may help to make her more comfortable. If the symptoms don't disappear by ten days she should go and see her family physician.

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Response by:

Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD Tatiana M Oberyszyn, PhD
Associate Professor of Pathology
Associate Professor of Molecular Virology, Immunology & Medical Genetics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University