The calendar still says Spring but here in Ohio it feels like Summer. The mornings are humid, the days are warm and there’s the smell of fresh cut grass in the air. Some of the neighborhood kids are already out of school and you can hear them playing outside until dark.

If you have chronic pain and take certain medicines – you could be putting yourself at risk of sunburns, skin damage, or even skin rashes. There are some medicines that just don’t mix well with the sun. If these reactions happen over and over, it can lead to premature skin aging or even skin cancer (Webstercare, 2015). But, there’s good news! This can be prevented with appropriate management. Let me start by telling you about the different types of reactions you can have.

Phototoxicity reactions – Phototoxicity is a common reaction in which the skin will look like a bad sunburn within minutes to hours after being in the sun. You can have pain or redness. Even though this may look like a sunburn, it’s different from a sunburn because it is caused by a medicine that you’re taking. The skin will return to normal once the drug is discontinued; however, with preventive measures, you may not have to stop taking the medicine.

Photoallergic reactions – Not as common as phototoxicity reactions. This happens when the UV rays cause molecules in the skin to change leading to a response from your immune system. Your body doesn’t recognize these new molecules and tries to attack them. A rash will develop within a few days.

You’re probably wondering which medicines cause which reactions? Or how do I protect my skin? Keep reading….

Medicines that can make you more sensitive to the sun and cause a phototoxic or photoallergic reactions are:

  • Antianxiety drug – alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Antibiotics – doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, or levofloxacin
  • Antidepressants (these can also be used for chronic pain) – amitriptyline [Elavil] and nortriptyline [Pamelor]
  • Diuretics (water pills) – furosemide [Lasix]
  • Heart drugs – amiodarone [Cordarone] or diltiazem [Cardizem]
  • Herbal medicines – St. John’s Wort, Kava, and some essential oils (orange, ginger, bergamot)
  • Hypoglycemic medicines (diabetes pills) – glipizide
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDS) – ibuprofen and naproxen
  • ‘Statins’ – atorvastatin [Lipitor] and simvastatin [Zocor]

How can you keep your skin safe and still take the medicines that you need? A few simple strategies can prevent you from damaging your skin.

  1. Read your label. If the medication that you take can cause sun sensitivity, the pharmacist will apply a label: Avoid excessive skin exposure to sunlight and sunlamps while being treated with this medicine.
  2. Go outside early in the morning or late afternoon. Avoid the hottest part of the day 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Remember that the sun’s rays can be stronger when they reflect off sand, snow, or water.
  3. Wear the right clothing. A long sleeve shirt with a high neckline or a collar that you can keep up to protect the back of your neck. A wide brimmed hat protects more of the face than a baseball cap, and close-fitting wraparound sunglasses protect more of the area around the eyes than small lenses do. (org)
  4. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more and don’t forget to use lip balm to protect your lips.

Enjoy the sun and enjoy your summer – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Until next time ~ Dr. JB Kirby

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