Angie Szumlinski
July 9, 2024

Wow, did you know that there are hundreds of medications that can cause photosensitivity? What is photosensitivity? It is an extreme sensitivity to UV rays from the sun. Most people are at risk of developing sunburn during long exposure to sunlight but people who are photosensitive may develop skin rashes or burns, even after only limited sun exposure.

Here are a few common medications that can increase the risk to those with photosensitivity:

  • Atorvastatin (common cholesterol lowering medication)
  • Dextromethorphan (in many cough remedies)
  • Furosemide (Lasix)
  • Methotrexate (commonly used for rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Hydrochlorothiazide (common “water” pill)
  • Phenobarbital (anti-seizure)

Now fast forward: it is a beautiful, sunny day, temperatures in the mid-80s, slight breeze, everyone wants to be outdoors. Well, lucky you, there is a beautiful, secure, outdoor courtyard in the center of your building. Problem solved, anyone interested in being outdoors is escorted to the courtyard. Activities and hydration are provided and at 3:00 pm it is time for shift change.

Dinner is served at 5:30, one resident is not present, staff go about the process of locating the resident. Resident is located in the outdoor courtyard at 5:45 pm with severe sunburn and blisters. The skin is weeping, and the resident has an elevated temperature. The physician is contacted and orders the resident be transferred to the hospital. Sadly, the resident succumbs to their burns.

Also sadly, this is not fiction, this can and did happen. Please, be sure your residents are supervised when outdoors, whether in a secure courtyard or out in the parking lot. The sun is not their friend especially if they are on medications that cause photosensitivity. A few suggestions:

  • Avoid outdoor activities between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm
  • Purchase sun hats in varying styles; have an activity decorating the hats and wearing them
  • Use umbrellas or fabric panels to provide shade
  • Use sunscreen on every area of exposed skin
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
  • Have a sign out sheet with the date, time, and names of each resident entering the courtyard
  • Check off each resident name when they return to the building
  • Perform a head count at each meal (this works for managing elopement risk as well)
  • Document if a resident is non-compliant; include what education was provided

I’m sure there are more ideas, be creative! Let residents enjoy the beautiful weather but understand that it is not without risk even when the weather is beautiful! Oh, did I say “hydrate”?! Have a wonderful summer, stay safe and stay informed!

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