Can Sun Exposure Cause Hives?

Can Sun Exposure Cause Hives?

You know people can be allergic to foods, chemicals, and pollen, but did you know people can also be allergic to sunlight? If your child breaks out in hives following sun exposure, their immune system is overreacting to the UV rays. 

You might notice hives, a rash, or small blisters. Sometimes it takes just a few moments of sun exposure to develop the symptoms. 

The sun is virtually unavoidable in North Carolina, so the good news is, there’s something you can do to help your child’s sun sensitivity. Dr. Margaret Lubega, our pediatrician at First Pediatric Care Center, shares this information about sunlight issues and suggests some minor changes to your outdoor routine to help avoid the uncomfortable reaction.

Types of sun allergies

If your child breaks out in hives in reaction to the sun, it could be one of several types of allergy:

Photoallergic reaction

Your child may be breaking out in hives due to a chemical applied to the skin prior to going out in the sun. It may be the sunscreen you’re using or a medication they’re taking.

Polymorphic light eruption 

Polymorphic light eruption is quite common and affects women or girls more often than men. Usually, the reaction begins in your child’s teen years. It causes itching and small blisters or reddened areas. 

Actinic prurigo

This form causes a rash of nodules on the skin. It’s genetic and strong among Native Americans, though it can affect all races. Symptoms tend to be quite dramatic.

Solar urticaria

This is a true sun allergy and results in hives. The hives appear after just a few minutes of sun exposure. Solar urticaria affects young women most often and can develop to a point of anaphylactic shock. Solar urticaria is extremely rare. 

Symptoms of sun reactions

The type of reaction your child has helps Dr. Lubego and her team determine the severity of the sun allergy. The location of the hives also helps her determine the nature of the reaction. 

Usually, sun allergies affect the parts of the body exposed to the sun, like the arms and legs. However, in severe cases – like solar urticaria – even areas covered by clothing can be affected. With solar urticaria, painful hives appear within minutes of sun exposure. The rash fades over a few days or weeks and may leave the skin darker after the reaction. 

Polymorphic light eruption and photoallergic reactions result in a burning or itchy rash that look very much like hives. It usually shows up within a few hours after exposure and is sometimes confused with a sunburn. With actinic prurigo, the hives are more like itchy, crusted bumps.

Hives may fade along with the season

Sun allergies and reactions are most commonly seen in the spring and early part of summer, when your child is first getting back out in the sun after winter. With time, their skin adjusts to sunlight and the likelihood of continued reactions diminishes. 

Protection from sun reactions

In the initial days of sun exposure, it’s best to limit time outdoors during peak sun hours of 10am to 4pm. Seek shade during these hours. 

You’ll also want to use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater on your child. Make sure the sunscreen is water resistant and broad spectrum (protective against both UVA and UVB rays). We can recommend the best types of hypoallergenic sunscreens. 

Talk to Dr. Lubega about any medications your child is taking and if they could cause photosensitivity. In severe cases of hives, she may recommend a topical steroid cream to reduce immediate inflammation.

If your child suffers from rashes or hives in response to the sun, reach out to Margaret Lubega, MD, and our team in Gastonia, North Carolina, for help. Use the tool here to book your child’s appointment and get them relief.

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