Generally, spending time outdoors and enjoying nature is highly recommended as part of living a healthy life. But for some people with autoimmune diseases, the sun can trigger flares and make symptoms worse. While scientists are still learning about the connection between sunlight and autoimmune disease flares, the clearest data is related to the connection between lupus and sun exposure.
Researchers know that the sun can trigger lupus in some people who were already on track to get the disease and can also cause lupus flare-ups in people who already have the disease. There is also some evidence that overexposure to the sun and trigger flares of dermatomyositis, psoriasis, and scleroderma.
Why does this happen? Too much UV exposure can be toxic for anyone. When you get a bad sunburn, the sun kills cells on the surface of your skin which your body then gets rid of in a process called apoptosis. During apoptosis, cells essentially self-destruct and cause an immune response where white blood cells come in and dispose of the dead cells. People with lupus (and every autoimmune disease) already have overactive immune systems, so when the sun spurs on apoptosis, their immune reaction may be too strong and start attacking healthy tissue as well.
This doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying outdoor activities. It just means making small changes and planning ahead to ensure your skin is protected to avoid any flare-ups. Some things you can do to avoid sun exposure:
- Wear weather-appropriate clothing that keeps your skin out of direct sunlight
- Use stronger natural sun screen, at least SPF 50
- Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours
- Start using makeup products that provide UVA/UVB protection
If you have sun sensitivity that is triggering your autoimmune disease, contact our office for
help balancing your condition and an active lifestyle.