Doxycycline is a type of photosensitizing drug, which basically means that patients who take it are more vulnerable to getting sunburn and other side effects of photosensitivity.
What is Doxycycline?
Doxycycline is a type of antibiotic used to treat a host of infections. This medicine may increase one’s risk of developing:
- Solar urticaria
- Light sensitivity
Main uses of Doxycycline
Doxycycline belongs to a class of tetracycline antibiotics, which is renowned for causing sunburn or sun poisoning and is available by prescription only. It is commonly used to treat:
- Gum disease, also known as periodontitis
- Infections of the eye infections
- Intestinal infections
- STDs, including gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia
- Urinary tract infections
- Early Lyme disease
Other brand names
Doxycycline may be dispensed by pharmacists under several trade names, including:
- Vibramycin Calcium
- Vibramycin Hyclate
- Adoxa CK
- Adoxa TT
- Vibramycin Monohydrate
- Adoxa Pak
Causes photosensitivity when taking Doxycycline
Patients who receive a prescription for Doxycycline are usually provided with written and oral warnings – from the prescribing physician and pharmacist. One of the most significant precautions while using Doxycycline is the increased risk of photosensitivity – or sensitivity to the sun.
Even if your skin has previously had no side effects from sun exposure, taking Doxycycline may affect your skin’s response to sunlight for either brief or extended periods of time. Due to this increased susceptibility to sunburn and other side effects of photosensitivity, patients are generally informed to avoid sun exposure during treatment, and exercise precautions when heading outdoors. Some of these measures are explored later in the guide.
Two main photoreactions are observed with Doxycycline use:
1. Phototoxic reactions to Doxycycline – Phototoxic reactions are more severe compared to photoallergic reactions to Doxycycline with the effects taking place usually within hours of using the medicine and being exposed to the sun.
2. Photoallergic reactions to Doxycycline – the drug induces a localized immune system response when users are exposed to the sun. It should be noted that the reaction may be delayed following 24 hours after initially taking the medicine.
Symptoms of Doxycycline and sun sensitivity
Some of the main symptoms of photosensitivity to sun exposure while taking Doxycycline include:
- Changes in skin color
- Mild to severe sunburn
- Rashes on the skin
- Unrelenting itchiness
Symptoms of Doxycycline and sun poisoning
Another possible and common complication of taking Doxycycline is the risk of sun poisoning. This condition is otherwise known as:
In these cases, an allergic response is triggered by exposure to light. Some additional symptoms of sun poisoning include but aren’t limited to:
- Trouble breathing
- Burning on the skin
- Rashes that are red and itch
- Skin peeling
- Patches on the skin
Effect on nails
In addition to affecting the skin, sun exposure while taking Doxycycline may also lead to nail separation or discoloration, a condition which is known as Onycholysis.
Top warnings for Doxycycline use – regarding sun exposure
- After commencing treatment with Doxycycline for bacterial infections, be sure to:
- Avoid exposing yourself to direct sunlight – especially during peak intensity times, which generally happens between 10am and 3pm – in your time zone.
- Dress with protection in mind – If you must go outside during the daytime, be sure to wear protective clothing at all times, even if you plan on being outside for just a few minutes. Some of the general rules of thumb include wearing a hat and a pair of sunglasses, along with thin, light-weight and long-sleeved clothing.
- Use the right sunscreen – your medical provider may prescribe an approved sunscreen product with an SPF rating of 15 or higher. Your complexion may influence you getting a more potent sunscreen product for the best protection against photosensitivity due to Doxycycline use. If you are unsure of what product to use, consult your pharmacist or primary care physician. Consumer reports also provide a free sunscreen buying guide for your review.
- Get an approved lip balm – in addition to protecting your eyes, skin and scalp, don’t neglect to use a lip product with SPF protection.
- Avoid tanning booths – as these can increase the risk of sunburn.
These precautions while taking Doxycycline helps prevent sunburn, a common side effect of Doxycycline. It should also be noted that exposure to indoor fluorescent light may also result in photosensitivity. As such, consider limiting the use of these artificial lights while taking Doxycycline.
If you do get sunburn and other symptoms of photosensitivity while taking this medicine, do not hesitate to contact your medical provider.
If you plan on traveling to regions with high levels of sun radiation during Doxycycline use, be sure to consult your healthcare provider for preventative tips, as extreme sun exposure can lead to extreme phototoxicity.
How to treat sunburn from Doxycycline
If you do get sunburn, sun poisoning or another negative reaction from sun exposure, due to an abnormally high sensitivity to the sun’s UV rays resulting from Doxycycline use, contact your healthcare provider for treatment options.
Some at-home remedies you can try to alleviate your symptoms in the interim include applying a cold compress periodically throughout the day. For rashes, swelling and itchiness, over-the-counter corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone creams can be applied. Follow the directions on the package label. These are topically applied. In extreme cases, an oral medication may be required – where the standard in such cases is Prednisone.
Other facts and tips on sun reactions to Doxycycline
- Fair-skinned individuals are more predisposed to phototoxicity and photosensitivity – due to Doxycycline
- Phototoxicity may result in secondary symptoms such as permanent damage to the epidermis. Patients sometimes report skin discoloration or skin thickening following an episode of phototoxicity
- Your doctor may recommend discontinuing use if a severe reaction occurs
- The preventative steps discussed earlier in this guide should be followed for at least two weeks after the initial treatment starts. Also, preventative measures should be continued following use due to the lag time observed in clinical trials
- Avoid chemical sunscreens as these products can worsen the risk of developing sunburn with Doxycycline use.