Lupus and Sunlight
Everybody talks a lot about the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. And we know to protect ourselves outside with wide-brimmed hats, garments made from sun-protective fabric, and, of course, sunscreen.
But for some people, like me and others lupies, whether we’re walking through a supermarket or sitting in an office, the UV exposure from artificial light can be just as damaging and painful as too much time outside in the sun. Did you know that?
Why are people with Lupus so sensitive to light?
Exposure to UV light causes damage to everyone’s cellular DNA, regardless of whether it’s coming from the sun or a lamp.
It’s what happens after that differs. “In people with lupus, the cells are much more sensitive to the damage caused by UV radiation,” Dr. Sabrina Newman, MD, assistant professor of dermatology and internal medicine at George Washington University in Washington, DC. says. “Once the cells are damaged, the immune system clears them, but people with lupus have a much slower clearance of these cells.”
The dead cells stick around in the body, triggering an immune system attack. “We have antibodies in our immune systems that typically are used to fight infection. But in people with Lupus, the antibodies wrongly target proteins within normal cells and cause an immune reaction.
How common is photosensitivity in people with Lupus?
Photosensitivity is common in people with Lupus: 40 percent to 70 percent of people with Lupus will find that their disease is made worse by exposure to UV rays from sunlight or artificial light. Although the sun emits much more significant amounts of UV radiation than indoor light, most people—especially us with Lupus—tend to spend more time indoors, where we’re exposed for more extended periods.
That’s not all: UV light can also activate lupus flares, triggering symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, tingling, and numbness.
How to protect yourself and help prevent lupus flare-ups
If UV light flares your Lupus, you want to create a barrier between you and it:
1 Apply a liberal layer of a 30 SPF or higher sunscreen, one that provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
2 Wear tightly woven clothing covering your skin, a wide-brimmed hat, and wraparound sunglasses to protect you from head to toe.
3 Choose light bulbs that have the lowest possible irradiance (intensity).
4 Cover fluorescent and halogen bulbs with light shields or a glass that filters out UV rays. Look for shields with readings of 380 to 400 nanometers, which filter all types of ultraviolet light.
5 Use UV-blocking shades to cover windows and prevent sunlight from streaming in.
6 Consider tinting the windows of your car—check state laws on window tinting to see if a doctor’s note is required.
Some medicines can make you more photosensitive, too. Talk to your pharmacist or physician about the drugs you’re taking, especially antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and blood pressure medications.
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