Most people love the heat of the sun. But, if you suffer from scleroderma or lupus, you may find those sunny days too much to bear. While the general population can’t wait to soak in the rays, those battling these chronic connective tissue disorders may find their condition worsening. But, before we can discuss why this happens and how to prevent it, it is first essential to understand what scleroderma and lupus really are.
What Is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that usually strikes women — it best known for its skin hardening attributes. Caused by inflammation to the small veins in the body and an overproduction of collagen, scleroderma makes the skin thick and hard. At its worst, the disease attacks internal organs like the heart, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys, which can impede circulation and make it hard for these important organs to work properly.
Since it usually begins with a hardening of the skin, overexposure to the sun can cause its victims a lot of discomfort, making it vitally important to protect the skin from dangerous UV rays.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disorder that actually sets the immune system against the body. Flares can be mild, or they can be life-threatening. Some common effects of lupus include skin rashes, infections, inflammation and more. Nearly every organ in the body can be adversely affected by lupus, with every sufferer experiencing different health issues because of it. Skin irritations and inflammation are common though, which can be exacerbated by sun exposure.
How Sun Exposure Can Increase Symptoms?
Any type of connective tissue disease (including scleroderma and lupus), can be affected by dangerous UV rays. What simply causes a slight redness or burn in a normal person can send an auto-immune sufferer into a full-fledged attack.
For instance, scleroderma patients are often overly sensitive to the sun: both due to the disease itself and the medications they take to control it. This can leave them vulnerable to UV ray exposure, causing sunburns faster than expected, and even some degree of hyperpigmentation to develop.
Lupus patients are also in danger when in the sun. In addition to sunburns and scarring on lupus skin lesions, there has also been some evidence to suggest internal UV damage weeks or even months after high exposure to the sun.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself?
You shouldn’t be forced to stay indoors just because you suffer from lupus or scleroderma – and you don’t have to! There are protective methods you can take to enjoy your time outdoors without sending your medical condition into a flare. Here are few tips shared by the professional staff at the Arthritis Center of Lexington:
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen: Applying sunscreen should become a mainstay part of your routine when it comes to lupus and scleroderma patients and the outdoors. Be sure to wear sunscreen (even on cloudy days) every time you step outside. But which is the right one? Always choose a sunscreen with at least a 30 SPF; made for ultra-sensitive skin; that can block both UVA and UVB rays, and that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. And be sure not to forget hard to reach areas like the middle of your back; back of your thighs and calves; the ides of your neck and temples.
- Wear Protective Clothing: you know the importance of wearing long sleeves, long pants, hats and sunglasses in the sun, but have you considered wearing shirts and pants featuring its own built-in SPF protection? Many manufacturers now include an SPF 25 to SPF 50 protection in their fabrics.
- Seek the shade. You don’t have to hide inside, but do try and find a shady spot to enjoy the outdoors. Avoiding direct sunlight is always best.
- Stay out of the sun during peak hours: it is always a good idea to avoid full sun exposure during the hours, and 10 am and 2 pm when the sun is at its highest ( and strongest) point in the sky.
Understanding the Risks Your Medications Cause
Anyone who takes regular medications for certain health conditions must understand how those drugs could affect the way their skin reacts to the sun. Phototoxicity is a dangerous condition that may occur when the chemicals in certain medications reacts in the body when it comes in contact with the sun. Many NSAID’s make the skin extra sensitive to the sun, which can cause burning in just minutes. Be sure to discuss your medications and these types of side effects with your doctor.
Want to learn more about how scleroderma and lupus patients can protect themselves against the dangerous effects of the sun? If you are not a current patient but are interested in pursuing care with us, contact your current PCP for a referral and call us today. Make an appointment today with one of our specialists at the Arthritis Center of Lexington.