Many of us look forward to summer for its sunnier and warmer days. However, for people with lupus, this can be a particularly difficult period, where the sun’s rays can actually trigger and intensify symptoms. Here’s how the sun affects individuals with lupus and some useful tips for patients to stay extra protected under the sun.
First of all, what exactly is lupus? It’s an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. This can affect different parts of the body, like the skin, joints, and organs. It’s estimated that over 5 million people in the world have some form of the disease.¹ Depending on the person, the seriousness of the disease ranges from mild to life-threatening with different symptoms, like fatigue, joint pain, physical impairment, and organ problems.
There’s currently no cure for the disease, though there are medical treatments and preventive measures to help control it. Even now, the exact cause isn’t fully understood. Most researchers believe it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors, where someone who’s genetically susceptible encounters an environmental trigger that sets off the reaction, also known as a flare. Some of the more commonly known environmental triggers include ultraviolet rays, certain drugs, and infections.
Many people with lupus experience increased sensitivity to sunlight, known as photosensitivity. As many as 75% of patients are photosensitive.² This can cause rashes to appear on the skin. One of the most common amongst patients is the butterfly (malar rash), which appears on the face across the nose and cheeks. Other skin problems include disk-shaped lesions and scaly red circles (Discoid and subacute lupus erythematosus respectively). For some individuals, it can also activate flare-ups of the disease, triggering some of the other symptoms like fatigue and joint pains. In more severe cases, this could also lead to fever and organ inflammation.
Given the effect that the sun’s rays can have, lupus patients need to pay special attention to sun protection. First off, it’s important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. UV protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses are also recommended forms of sun protection. To stay protected in the sun, you can also use the free sun safety app, Sun Index. Available for iOS and Android, the app gives tailored sun safety recommendations, such as how much sunscreen you should apply and the hours that the sun is strongest during the day. If you think you may have lupus, you should seek the attention of a medical professional immediately.
- Lupus Foundation of America (n.d.) Facts and Statistics. Retrieved on May 3rd, 2018
- Lupus Canada (n.d.) Photosensitivity, Sun Safety, and Lupus. Retrieved on June 19th, 2018