Lately I have been looking a little more closely at the possibilities of sun exposure as a way to help reduce cholinergic urticaria symptoms.
In one of my last posts, I talked about the possibilities of sun exposure being related to Cholinergic Urticaria. Just as a reminder, I was basing this possibility on my own lack of sun exposure (and the relation to sun exposure and CU), a poll which showed that many people on this site did not seem to get a lot of sun exposure, and also a few online resources which talked about vitamin D and sun exposure’s affect on the immune system and allergies.
As I have mentioned in other posts, I live in an apartment complex and it is not very practical for me to be able to go outside a soak up the rays (I don’t have a porch or yard and there are always lots of people out there). So I don’t really feel comfortable going out there and sitting and potentially having an outbreak in front of an audience. Plus this CU has made me somewhat anti-social anyways.
Here are a few more points that make me want to take a closer look at sun exposure to see if it has any effect:
- Throughout my life before I got CU, I was very active and outdoors a lot. I played baseball, I rode my bicycle, etc. However, before I got cholinergic urticaria I did become much less active (and incidentally less activity=less sun exposure).
- Then my CU first appeared in the dead of winter. Notice that some people with CU (not all) also experience either their first outbreak during winter, or more severe symptoms during winter. This could be due to the cold weather and the bodies inability to acclimatize to heat. However, there is also another variable mixed in there: sun exposure is much less for most people during the winter because of the cold temperatures.
- When my CU went into remission, it was at the beginning of summer/late spring. I began going outdoors a lot. In fact, I remember sweating tremendously after spending a couple of hours detailing my car outside. After that, I can’t recall a breakout for a period of about 2 years or so. I was in the sun almost daily, and it stayed that way for about the next 2 years.
- When my Cholinergic Urticaria symptoms came back, I was once again almost always indoors and received probably less than 1hour of direct sun a week! That was way too little. This has continued since I have had CU. I have had a few periods of sun exposure here and there. But I have not had REGULAR and consistent sun exposure daily for a long period of time (weeks or months). Instead I may have a spurt or where I get a couple of days in the sun, but then go a few days with no sun, etc.
- The sun could have lots of beneficial effects on us: It is known to produce vitamin D in the skin (a very important vitamin that plays a huge role in our bodies), it helps to regulate our immune systems, it helps us sleep more regularly due to it’s effects on melanin production, it is known to make people less depressed and more positive (which is why there is often many more depression cases in winter time-there is much less sun exposure during those months), and much more.
- I also made a recent post about Immunoglobulin E (IgE). This is an antibody which could have a role in cholinergic urticaria according to some online article excerpts. One interesting article excerpt I found was that in vitro (the womb) a study found that Vitamin D actually supressed IgE in a fetus. I wonder if Vitamin D could also have a supression effect on IgE, which could potentially reduce CU symptoms. Of course, that is if IgE is involved in cholinergic urticaria in the first place.
- In addition, I also suspect the ultra-violet rays could have a beneficial effect on our skin in other ways. For example, many potential allergens on the skin are quickly killed by direct sunlight exposure. One great thread on allergies in the Cholinergic Urticaria forum showed that one of the people on this forum has an extremely high sensitivity to D. Farinae (a common house mite aka dust mite allergy). House mites and bed bugs for example, cannot live very long in direct sunlight. Some bacteria, fungi, etc. are also controlled with direct sunlight. So I think this could be beneficial if we do have some unknown problems with that as well. The sunlight could potentially lower the amount of any possible allergens, mites, harmful bacteria, etc. on our skin.
- Many skin conditions are treated with ultra-violet light. Dermatitis or eczema, psoriasis, and many other conditions can become less noticeable after a direct light, and some doctors even give ultraviolet light treatment to the skin areas when necessary.
- While increased sun exposure, sun burns, or excessive sun may significantly increase the risk of skin cancer, it also reduces a large number of cancers according to most online articles.
Those are just a few of the things I have been pondering about the sun exposure thing in relation to cholinergic urticaria. So it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to soak up the sun, and this past week that is exactly what I have done. Here is my experience with it so far:
My Experiment/Experience with Sun Exposure and Cholinergic Urticaria
In an attempt to get in some sun rays before the winter season hits hard, I thought I would give it a go. So for this past week I have been going outside and sitting in front of my apartment door for about 20-60 minutes in direct sunlight. I did not wear sunscreen, however, I did wear a t-shirt, shorts, shoes, and a hat (for most of the time). My arms, legs, neck, etc. was fully exposed to direct sunlight.
First, it actually felt great just sitting outside. I have almost forgotten how much I do love nature and the outdoors. I sat outside my first day for about 45 minutes. Towards the end of the time, my skin started to heat up and I could feel the itching and prickling.
I noticed that I got a little bit of a headache later that day from being out in the sun. I suppose maybe this was due to the fact that I have hardly been out in the sun at all for the entire summer, and the exposure maybe caused a chemical thing in my body which led to a headache?? Maybe my body was in shock from the sun lol.
The very next day, I woke up feeling really energized and refreshed. I again sat out in the sun, and repeated this for the entire week. Each day I got at least 15-20 minutes of direct sun on my body.
So far, I have felt more positive, I have more energy, and my skin seems to be a little more clear looking. I always try to objectively look at the situation and all of my experiments and think, “Okay is this just a placebo or what?” But I do think I can credit the energy and happier moods to the sun for sure.
As far as cholinergic urticaria, it is still there. It has seemed like it takes longer for it to come out, but in this week of sun I have not yet noticed a major difference. However, I also realize that if there is a major deficiency of vitamin D (which is really likely considering I have hardly been in the sun at all, and I don’t drink milk which is one of the best sources of vitamin d besides the sun), then it could take time for my body to adjust and start working properly again.
So I feel that to know the full effects it would take at least a month or two. I am going to try to do this consistently as possible, however, winter is here soon and I don’t know if I can sit outside on these cold days, so this may have to wait until a few months from now until I get a house to know for sure. I plan on hopefully getting a house by June or July of 2009, and then I can really do a lot of experiments that I have been wanting to try.
How Much Sun Exposure Is Enough for Vitamin D?
Most of the articles I read seems to suggest that dermatologists recommend approximately 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight on about 40% of the body daily to produce vitamin d (after about 2:00 pm when the sun’s rays aren’t as intense).
I am no expert, so you will want to talk to a doctor or dermatologist if you plan on doing this. I personally aim to get about 20-60 minutes daily. Obviously if you have extremely fair skin, a history of skin cancer, etc. you may not want to get nearly as much sun exposure.
I feel that this amount of time is sufficient for me to produce vitamin d and other potentially good solar effects, yet at the same time I won’t usually get too much sun (sun burn) within this time to my skin tone (I am white (Caucasian) but tan fairly easily).
What About Vitamin D Supplements? Can’t I Just Take Those?
This is something I briefly considered, but I have decided not to take them for a number of reasons below:
- First, I don’t know for sure I am deficient in vitamin d (although I almost have to be since I never get a lot of sun and don’t consume a lot of milk which has a lot of vitamin d in it).
- Vitamin D actually helps the body to absorb nutrients in the intestines. If it is true that I was vitamin D deficient, I can’t say for sure that I would adequately absorb any supplements. It seems it would be much better to get it from the sun.
- Supplements tend to only contain a certain quantity of chemicals. There are actually different types of vitamin d (D2, D3 for example), and each different molecule can do different things within the body. When you buy vitamin d supplements, it usually only consists of just 1 of these types. Instead, getting it from the sun is more natural and provides all of the benefits and chemicals you need. Our bodies are setup automatically to make this stuff when the sun hits it. Just like plants use photosynthesis from sunlight.
- It is hard to know how much is right. Is 1000 units of vitamin D enough? Or 2000? Or just 500? It could be confusing, and I feel like someone should only do this under a doctor’s recommendation.
- I am not a big vitamin person. I have taken vitamins in the past, but the problem again is that in my opinion these chemicals should only be used if you have a severe deficiency in something or a doctor strongly recommends it. Otherwise I feel like there is too great a risk of getting too much of a chemical to the point of toxicity (which can damage the body). So I try to stay clear of artificial chemicals and vitamins, and instead get all I need from the sun and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.
- Last but not least, Vitamin D is not the only thing I am trying to get from the sun. I also want the other benefits of the ultraviolet radiation (killing potential bad mites/bacteria/), and also all of the other good benefits of being out in the sun (many of which scientists probably don’t know).
Conclusion: I Will Try to Get More Sun Exposure on a Regular Basis
So the basic plan is to get between 15-60 minutes of sunshine every day if possible (with the exception of rainy days). I will keep this up as long as possible, but I may be limited in the winter or cold days. If I see any changes, or if I have to discontinue this experiment I will keep you updated as always.
I am also taking precautions to protect against skin cancer and sun burns. I am not getting excessive sun, and I try to turn my arms and shade my nose to prevent too much sun in one spot. The idea is to get enough sun daily for Vitamin D and other benefits, but to avoid the harmful effects of overexposure (skin cancer, sun burn, premature aging/wrinkles).
UPDATE: 1/21/13 This is an old archived post, and I have made more recent posts regarding my new diet and how I was able to finally get my hives under control. Read more about it on my cholinergic urticaria diet page. What I essentially did was keep a journal and do several allergy elimination diets.