For most people, a holiday in The Maldives might be a normal thing, but for me, it was a significant milestone to be able to have fun in the sun. You see, I was diagnosed with Polymorphic Light Eruption, which essentially means I have an allergy to sunlight.
Even being under the shade but surrounded by light was enough to trigger a painful rash that would last for two days. The agony was unbearable, and I would have done anything to make the pain go away.
The dermatologists' advice was to take daily antihistamines, use steroid creams during flare-ups, avoid the sun, and wear sunscreen all the time. However, I was not comfortable with the suggested treatment options for several reasons. Firstly, I was reluctant to rely on medications with potential side effects, especially since I would have to take them indefinitely as there is no known cure for my condition. Secondly, avoiding the sun was not feasible, as I lived in sunny Dubai, and even short exposures to sunlight during daily activities would trigger a flare-up. Lastly, most commercial sunscreen brands did not provide adequate protection, and I was also concerned about the chemicals in sunscreens.
So, my only option was to minimize daytime outings to necessities only and cover up my face and body extensively. I had to wear leggings and long-sleeve tops, sun sleeves (fingerless gloves from the knuckles to elbow), a bandana around my forehead, and a hat, along with a balaclava (a face mask used by hikers and bikers). This made me look like a ninja, with only my eyes visible. However, even with all these measures, I couldn't cover my eyebrows, which remained red, swollen, and itchy.
The flare-ups were not just like sunburn, but rather a physically and mentally draining experience. The pain was intense, and I would often lock myself in my room to cry and scream into a pillow, hiding from my family.
Living in Dubai, where the beach and swimming pools are popular sources of fun, was particularly challenging for me. Initially, my husband would take our daughters to spend time in the sun with friends, and I would join them closer to sunset, fully clothed, even wearing closed shoes to protect my feet from sunlight. I would barely spend half an hour with our friends, feeling self-conscious being fully dressed while others were in swimwear.
Spending weekends indoors on my own was tough, and my husband noticed my low spirits, so we switched to indoor activities like board games and cooking at home with the girls. While it was enjoyable in its own way, I felt guilty that my condition was causing my family to miss out on fun and socializing. It was a challenging time for me.
In the meantime, I started studying at The School of Applied Functional Medicine, as I was convinced that there must be a solution if I delved deeper and understood my body better.
Despite already leading a healthy lifestyle with clean eating, reduced toxin exposure, and stress management through my training as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, it was not enough. My body was still struggling from years of health issues and medications that only addressed symptoms but not the root causes.
If you have such a condition, you can understand the struggle of living with a sunlight allergy. It can affect not just your physical health but also your mental and emotional well-being. However, with perseverance and a proactive approach, I was able to find relief and enjoy a holiday in the Maldives.
Through my studies at The School of Applied Functional Medicine, understanding upstream causes and downstream impacts, I learned to address the root causes of my health issues and develop a personalized treatment plan. It wasn't a quick fix or a magic pill, but a holistic approach that involved understanding my unique body and what triggered my immune system to react in that way.
I made significant changes to my lifestyle to prioritize my health. This included addressing my food sensitivities and transitioning to a 100% gluten-free diet. I also took steps to reduce my exposure to toxins, both in my environment and in the products I use and proactively dealt with mold exposure in my home to create a healthier living space. Furthermore, I truly recognized the importance of managing stress and learned effective techniques to cope with and reduce my stress response.
I also experimented with different functional tests to gain insights into my condition and put together the puzzle pieces of my health. It was a journey of self-discovery and self-care, and I slowly started to feel better over time. I remember the first time I dared to expose more skin during the school pick-up with a 3/4 sleeve t-shirt and had a mild reaction that went away in a few hours instead of lasting for days. It was a small but significant progress that encouraged me to take further steps. With the support of my friends and loved ones, I gradually increased my tolerance to sunlight and eventually enjoyed a 4-day holiday in the Maldives, where I was able to wear swimwear and even get a light tan. Of course I used sunscreen as most people would do in such an extended sun exposure.
It wasn't an easy journey, and I had to face fears and overcome challenges along the way. But it was worth it to be able to experience the joy of being in the sun without debilitating reactions. It taught me the importance of advocating for my own health, being proactive in finding solutions, and not giving up hope.
If you are also struggling with a sunlight allergy or any other chronic health condition, I encourage you to seek support from qualified healthcare professionals and explore holistic approaches like functional medicine. Remember, healing is a journey, and with determination and perseverance, you can overcome challenges and enjoy the milestones in your life.