Pop Quiz! Photosensitivity Can Spell Trouble for Skin in the Sun

Many medications have side effects, and unfortunately for those residing here in the Sunshine State, one of those side effects can be an increased sensitivity to the sun. Called drug-induced photosensitivity, it accounts for 8 percent of side effects, though it’s believed to be underdiagnosed and underreported. Take our quiz to learn more about drug-induced photosensitivity, including why it happens, how to avoid it, and what can help if you find yourself suffering from adverse drug-induced skin sensitivity.

1. A drug-induced photosensitivity reaction, which can either be a photoallergy reaction or a phototoxicity reaction, can have which of the following symptoms?
A. Red, sunburn-like symptoms on the skin that can include burning, stinging, and inflammation
B. Skin rash and/or hyperpigmentation
C. Itchy skin
D. Dry, itchy patches or purple, itchy, flat bumps on the skin
E. All of the above

2. True or false? Not all people who take or use medicines that commonly cause photosensitivity will have a reaction, and photosensitivity can start or stop at any time.

3. Which of the following describes how the medications you take can cause a photosensitive reaction?
A. The drug or its metabolites lower your skin’s melanin, making it more sensitive to UV radiation.
B. The drug or its metabolites are present within the skin, and they absorb UV radiation and trigger a chemical photosensitivity reaction in the skin.
C. The drug or its metabolites in your skin reflect and refract UV rays, multiplying the strength of the UV rays, which causes damage.
D. None of the above

4. There are many drugs that can cause a photosensitivity reaction. Which of the following are common medications that can cause a drug-induced photosensitivity reaction?
A. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen, naproxen, and others) and antihistamines
B. Antibiotics and antifungals
C. Cholesterol-lowering drugs and diuretics
D. Oral contraceptives and estrogens
E. All of the above

5. True or false? Medications that are taken orally, applied to the skin topically, or injected into the skin can all cause photosensitivity.

6. True or false? Symptoms of photosensitivity can appear immediately or even days after UV exposure.

7. Which of the following is NOT a way to avoid drug-induced photosensitivity?
A. When outside, seek shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., especially when the UV index is high.
B. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats to limit sun exposure.
C. Expose your skin to as much UV radiation as possible to build up your skin’s tolerance.
D. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen regularly with an SPF of 30 or higher. 

8. True or false? Tanning beds and UV-curing nail lights won’t trigger drug-induced photosensitivity.

9. What should you do if you think your oral, topical, or injected medication is causing drug-induced photosensitivity?
A. Stop taking the medication immediately, even if it was prescribed by your doctor.
B. See your doctor to discuss your options concerning your treatment, including alternative medications.
C. Do nothing and wait to see if it goes away.
D. None of the above

10. What can you do to relieve the symptoms of drug-induced photosensitivity while waiting to see your doctor?
A. Apply a cool compress or a cooling gel, like aloe vera, to the affected skin.
B. Apply topical corticosteroids (hydrocortisone) to the affected areas.
C. Avoid further sun exposure.
D. All of the above

11. While most cases of drug-induced photosensitivity resolve upon ceasing the medication causing the reaction, postinflammatory hyperpigmentation and photoallergic contact dermatitis can occur.

compiled by ERIKA ALDRICH / Resources: Information provided by the US Food and Drug Administration and DermNet.


  1. E. All of the above
  2. True. There is no way to determine who will have a drug-induced photosensitivity reaction.
  3. B. The drug is present in the skin and reacts adversely to UV radiation.
  4. E. All of the above
  5. True
  6. True
  7. C. Do not try to expose your skin to as much UV radiation as possible to build up a tolerance; it will just make the symptoms worse.
  8. False. Tanning beds and UV-curing nail lights WILL trigger drug-induced photosensitivity.
  9. B. Speak with your doctor about your treatment options.
  10. D. All of the above
  11. True

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