Life with a sun allergy: "Summer is not the worst of it”

Life with a sun allergy: "Summer is not the worst of it”

Tell us who you are and where you’re from. 

I am Jacob Varghese. I am the CEO of Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and I live in Melbourne. 

Describe your lifestyle. 

When I am not in lockdown, I am an office worker. I travel quite a bit for work, but mostly visiting other offices. I am the father of three school-age girls. On the weekends (when we are not in lockdown) we like to go for bushwalks, bike-rides and picnics. We love family holidays in the mountains or near the water. 

How did you discover your skin health issue (sun urticaria)? 

When I was 25, I visited Vietnam for a holiday. With lots of exposure to sun, I started to develop very itchy rashes.  This then persisted when I came home after sun exposure. When I came home, I saw a doctor who told me about sun urticaria, and it has been a feature of my life ever since. 

How does this skin issue affect your everyday life?  

I am cautious about spending too much time in direct sun. I try to sit in the shade, wear a hat and so on. As long as I am sun smart, it doesn’t affect my everyday life that often. It can be irritating when I am driving on a sunny day - the sun gets on my hands before I realise and then I can end up with extremely itchy hands while trying to focus on driving. 

If you played a round of golf on a hot summer’s day, would you be affected? 

Funnily enough, summer is not the worst of it. I tend to be most affected in spring. But yes, if played a round of golf in shorts with no hat, it would be a nightmare. 

Are there certain areas more affected than others? 

I get especially bad reactions in places that don’t see a lot of sun. So, wearing shorts in spring, I will get badly affected on my calves. If I wear sandals or wade in shallow water, I get it on the tops of my feet. If my face is in direct sunlight, I will get it on my cheeks and forehead. The back of my neck is also vulnerable. 

What happens as a result of a flare up? 

My skin gets very red, very warm to touch and it is incredibly itchy - you cannot concentrate on anything else until the itch has died down. It lasts only about 30 - 60 minutes after I have gotten out of the sun. It is more annoying than debilitating.  

Do you know how it came about? 

I have no idea to be honest. No one in my family has the same issue. 

Do you regularly visit a dermatologist? 

No. I have seen a dermatologist once, who diagnosed sun urticaria and advised me to be sun smart and take over-the-counter antihistamine if I get a flare up. 

What is your attitude to sun protection?  

I try hard to make sure that affected areas don’t get direct sunlight on them, which is mostly a matter of shade and clothing. I have found that sunscreen doesn’t necessarily prevent a flare up. So, I try to make sure I am sitting in the shade when eating outdoors and to wear sensible clothes. 

Have you heard of UPF clothing; do you know what it means? 

I have now! It means clothing designed to block out ultraviolet light. 

Do you know the difference between wearing a Solbari shirt compared to a regular shirt? 

I guess Solbari clothing provides more protection from the UV light that causes sun urticaria. That is great because a lot of summery clothes will let the sun through. Having an itchy back is a true misery! 

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