Why the Sun Causes More Than Sunburn for Lupus Patients

This is another personal reflection containing a little research about Lupus. Lupus has been declared  as Lupus Awareness Month. These articles are my effort to raise awareness and help everyone touched by Lupus better understand the complexities, subtleties, and anxieties.

How can something wonderful like the sun be a challenge to a Lupus patient? That’s the question I’ve asked myself since diagnosis eight years ago.

lupus warrior cartoonOur family loves Florida, the beach, and the pool. Until my diagnosis, I did also.

Normally, I would float in the pool and listen to praise music most of the day. My skin became a beautiful bronze. After diagnosis, there is no pool sun bathing and my skin has lost all its collagen and looks like wet tissue paper.

This is one aspect of the “mind game” of Lupus that has been tremendously challenging for me and many others.

In order to understand this, it’s important to know that the normal death process of cells in our bodies is called “apoptosis.”  Sunlight causes death in the cells and the immune system quickly kicks in to expel them.

However, with a Lupus patient, when the cells die, the body calls the immune system to get rid of them, but there is no answer because of such a compromised immune system. The dead cells remain, causing inflammation– an acute flare with rashes, joint pain, and/or internal organ damage.

poster...stand strong

I’ve learned to cope with this, but still, it’s not easy. It’s not easy looking at the beautiful beach knowing I can’t participate. It’s difficult trying to explain to my family why I can’t be in the sun. It’s difficult when others perceive you’re just avoiding a sun burn, but in reality, it’s avoidance of a Lupus flare.

It’s important for me and other Lupus patients to remember:

  • Sunlight is not the only source of ultraviolet light. Fluorescent lights and photocopiers emit some ultraviolet light. Tanning beds are not safe for people with lupus.
  • Some antibiotics, like tetracycline, can make you more sensitive to sunlight, so ask your doctor or pharmacist about photosensitivity any time you start a new drug.
  • Car and house windows screen out UVB rays but not UVA. You can buy films to coat these windows for UVA protection.

Protecting ourselves from sun exposure is a vital part of lupus management. It’s important to know how ultraviolet light from the sun and other sources may stimulate an autoimmune response.



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