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Polymorphous light eruption

Definition

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) is a common skin reaction in people who are sensitive to sunlight (ultraviolet light).

Alternative Names

Polymorphic light eruption; Photodermatosis; PMLE

Causes

The cause is unknown. Doctors think it is a type of delayed allergic reaction. It is common among young women who live in moderate (temperate) climates.

Symptoms

Polymorphous means taking on different forms, and eruption means rash. As the name suggests, symptoms of PMLE are rash-like and are different in different people.

PMLE most often occurs in spring and early summer on areas of the body exposed to the sun. 

Symptoms usually appear within 1 to 4 days after exposure to sunlight. They include any of the following:

  • Small bumps (papules) or blisters
  • Redness or scaling of the skin
  • Itching or burning of the affected skin
  • Swelling, or even blisters (not often seen)

Treatment

Steroid creams or ointments containing vitamin D may be prescribed by your health care provider. They are used 2 or 3 times a day. Steroid or other types of pills may be used for more severe cases.

Phototherapy may also be prescribed. Phototherapy is a medical treatment in which your skin is carefully exposed to ultraviolet light. This may help your skin become used to (sensitized to) the sun.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Many people become less sensitive to sunlight over time.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if PMLE symptoms do not respond to treatments.

Prevention

To prevent PMLE symptoms:

  • Avoid sun exposure during hours of peak sun ray intensity.
  • Use sunscreen. Sun protection with broad spectrum sunblock that works against UVA rays is important.
  • Apply generous amounts of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Pay special attention to your face, nose, ears, and shoulders. 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure so that it has time to penetrate the skin. Re-apply after swimming and every 2 hours while you are outdoors.
  • Wear a sun hat. 
  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Use a lip balm with sunscreen.

References

Gruber-Wackernagel A, Burne SN. Polymorphous light eruption: clinic aspects and pathogenesis. Dermatol Clin. 2014;32:315-34. PMID: 24891054 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24891054.

Morison WL, Richard EG. Polymorphic light eruption. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 189.


Review Date: 4/14/2015
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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