Advise Me

Can the Medications I Take Make Me Sensitive to Heat and the Sun?

Summer days spent out on the lake, at the beach or pool with friends and family can be lots of fun. But soaking up the sun could mean trouble for your skin and health—and we’re not just talking about your risk for skin cancer.

Before you grab your sun hat and sunglasses, you’ll want to check your medicine cabinet. Some of the prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) meds and even vitamins you're taking could put you at risk for being more sensitive to the sun and heat.

“Summertime can pose a danger for people if they’re unaware that a medication they are taking may put them at higher risk for sun sensitivity, dehydration or heat intolerance,” said Kelly Erdos, PharmD, a clinical pharmacist with Banner Baywood Medical Center in Mesa, AZ. “Many drugs can intensify the effects of hot weather and the sun, so it’s important to review your medications."

How can medications put you at risk for heat intolerance and sun sensitivity?

Some drugs you may be taking could increase sun sensitivity by causing photosensitivity, a reaction that causes red, painful or itchy rashes—and even blisters. The medication in combination with the sun causes a chemical change to your skin, making it react abnormally.

The summer heat can cause additional problems if you’re on medication that reduces sweating, raises your body temperature or increases your risk for dehydration. This can be especially dangerous for older adults, who may struggle with dehydration and regulating their body temperature.

What types of medications can cause heat intolerance or sensitivity to the sun?

“Dehydration and heat intolerance can be made worse for those on diuretics, also known as water pills, chemotherapy or cancer treatments and laxatives,” Dr. Erdos said. “Other medications like anticholinergics, such as Benadryl or diphenhydramine, acne medications, amphetamines, antidepressants, antibiotics and several others can increase your risk of overheating and make you more sensitive to the sun.”

Popular OTC medications can also cause severe sunburn. These include pain relievers, like ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as supplements, particularly St. John’s wort.

“Since there are so many medications that can cause sensitivity to heat and sunlight, the best way to know if you’re at risk is to discuss your full list of medications with a pharmacist,” Dr. Erdos said.

What symptoms should I watch out for?

Symptoms of heat intolerance and photosensitivity can vary from person to person, but signs and symptoms may include the following:

For Sun Sensitivity

  • Redness to the area exposed to light
  • Itching and pain
  • Red bumps, scaling and blistering

For Heat Intolerance

How can I protect myself from sun sensitivity and heat intolerance?

There are several ways you can avoid these side effects.

  • Check with your health care provider or a retail pharmacist. Whenever you start a new medication , ask your local retail pharmacist or provider to go over your list of medications, including any OTC medications and supplements, to see if they could put you at increased risk during the summer. It is also helpful to do this at least once per year.
  • Seek shade whenever possible. This is especially important when UV light is at its strongest (the middle of the day). A good way to check the UV index is a weather app on your mobile device or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.
  • Always bring lots of water and stay hydrated. By the time you feel parched , you’re already on the road to dehydration. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, take sips of water or a noncaffeinated beverage throughout the day.
  • Protect your skin. Wear sunscreen daily, reapply often and cover up when you’re outside. A wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeve UV-protectant clothing are great options.

When should I seek help?

Any type of skin rash or irritation that doesn’t improve or worsens should be evaluated by your health care provider. If signs of dehydration appear, call your provider to see if medical attention is needed or if symptoms can be monitored and managed at home. If after hours, you can call the Banner Nurse Now line at 844-259-9494 for free health care advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

For more helpful tips, check out these related articles:

Wellness Pharmacy Safety

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