Now that it's summer, I am concerned that some medications I take may make me more sensitive to the sun. Is this true?
(Column: Ask the Pharmacist)
Medications Can Make Us Sensitive to the Sun
Now that summer has come I think we should discuss a topic called photosensitivity. We all have heard about drug-to-drug interactions (when two or more drugs are taken together and produce an undesirable side effect). We also know about food to drug interactions (when the food we eat affects the way our medications work). Many of us aren't aware that some medications may react with external forces, most commonly being the sun. Certain medications actually make our skin more sensitive to burning by the sun. This is also called photosensitive reaction.
A photosensitivity reaction often does not cause you to get a beautiful tan; it usually causes severe sunburn, which may not burn evenly over your body. Certain areas may become more sensitive than others and will usually cause blotching on your skin.
Patients taking the same medications may have very different reactions when exposed to the sun. There are many drugs that cause photosensitivity reactions. The antibiotics Tetracycline and Sulfur very commonly will cause sensitivity. Patients taking high blood pressure medications that contain a diuretic such as Hydrochlorthiazide (hctz) may experience a reaction to the sun. Of the antipsychotic medications many of the older products such as Thorazine and Stelazine may cause photosensitivity reactions. On a related note, most anti psychotics can reduce or prevent sweating (this includes Zyprexa and Risperdal). Therefore DO NOT BECOME OVERHEATED in hot weather or during exercise or other activities since heatstroke may occur.
How do we prevent photosensitivity reactions from occurring? It's simple: be smart. When you fill a prescription, ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medication can cause a photosensitivity reaction.
If it can, simply avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, wear clothing that protects the skin from exposure to the sun and use a good sunblock (number 15 or higher). There is no need to lock ourselves in our apartments for the summer since walking across the street to buy a quart of milk will probably not cause a reaction.
Enjoy the summer, don't be afraid to go outdoors and enjoy the weather: just be smart. Have a healthy summer.