Where I’ve Been, My Allergy to the Sun

This past summer I started getting horrible itchy hives and “burns” on my skin, each time I would go outside without sunscreen. It was uncomfortable and stressful, trying to figure out what was going on. Since the onset of these strange occurrences, I’ve found that I have a similar reaction with fluorescent light bulbs (including, obviously, the ubiquitous and earth-friendlier CFL bulbs).

I’ve now been diagnosed with a very rare (“about 100 cases have been reported in the last century”) skin condition called Solar Urticaria. Simplified it means I am allergic to the sun and UV rays. While manageable with sunscreen and sun avoidance it is a significant change, especially for a girl who, immediately upon moving to any new place, digs up a flower bed, before even figuring out the paint colors. And that is notable because I love picking out paint colors.

But, I’m managing, and it’s not as bad as it seems. Yes, it is sad with a toddler that I can’t take to the park, meet up with friends for a picnic in the middle of the day, garden outside. I can’t spontaneously go for a walk, probably never get to swim in the ocean again, but if I wear sunscreen I can be outside before 9am and after 4pm without breaking out. And on those times when I do have to go out earlier, I slather on a high spf and stay covered and deal with the areas that do become exposed and cope with the inevitable hives.

Even a fraction of skin exposed reacts to the sunlight – the sliver of skin that shows as a sleeve slips upward, the skin on your back when you bend over, etc., but they go away within an hour. This condition is much more manageable in the winter and fall, but I’m not sure how hard it is going to be in the sweltering spring and summer here – wearing jeans and long sleeves is a withering prospect.

I will most likely have this condition for the rest of my life. But it could be so much worse, though debilitating in some ways, I still have all my faculties, it is not in general life-threatening. I can see and taste and dance and sing and cook and explore my passions, just like before. I’m looking forward to nurturing my green thumb indoors, to nighttime walks on the beach, to sunset picnics, to early morning photography. You can take the girl from the garden, but you can’t take the garden from this girl.

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  1. Jung Lee says

    I have developed a similar reaction to the sun. I’ve found that sun BLOCK works in reducing the symptoms whereas sunscreen doesn’t seem to help.
    I only seem to break out on my arms, though.

  2. says

    Oh no, I’m so sorry to read about this Michelle. Your outlook is so positive, even in light of your diagnosis…and I for one find that incredibly inspiring. Sending lots of love your way. xo Ez

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