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Sunburn or sun allergy?

When the sun shines, your skin can quickly end up red and painful. What looks like sunburn could also be a sun allergy.

Summer at last! For many, summer means holidays. Whether you're on the beach, in the mountains or visiting a foreign city, your first stint of sunbathing or prolonged time spent outdoors brings with it a substantial risk of sunburn. But what if your skin suddenly comes out in a red rash, bumps or blisters?

Around one fifth of people in Switzerland suffer from a sun allergy (polymorphic light eruption). The symptoms appear after several hours or even days, compared with sunburn, where the symptoms appear after only three to five hours. Sunburn is mainly the result of UVB rays, and leads to extensive redness of the skin that feels taut and painful. Allergic reactions, by contrast, are usually triggered by UVA rays, which penetrate further into the skin. This can result in a spotty rash, blisters and bumps, often accompanied by serious itching.

What can you do if you're affected?
An allergy can't be cured, but its occurrence can be reduced, for example with sunblock. It's best to use products with a high sun protection factor (30 to 50) that contain both a UVA and a UVB filter. You should also give your skin as much time as possible to get used to strong sun exposure. One way of doing this is by whole-body irradiation (WBI). This isn't a solarium, but a kind of phototherapy with as low a dose of UV as possible, conducted by a medical specialist. While this treatment can help prevent polymorphic light eruption, in most cases the patient still has elevated sensitivity to sunlight.

Acute conditions
If your skin shows an allergic reaction you should avoid further UV exposure as much as possible. Generally the symptoms will then disappear without further treatment. Antihistamines can help soothe the itching. You can also treat the areas affected with a cream. It's best to seek advice at a chemist.

Health advice around the clock
If you have any questions about your health, the doctors and medical staff at sante24 will be happy to offer you expert advice – free of charge, around the clock. Sante24 can also arrange a doctor's appointment if desired. Tel. 044 404 86 86