It’s not often that Amy and Matt Parkin-Low allow their three young children sugary treats. But just over a week ago, and two days into the family’s luxurious Mexican holiday, feeling utterly relaxed, they thought: why not?
After all, the frozen lime lollies five-year-old Henry was lusting after had been hand-crafted by the Cancun resort’s staff and contained nothing but local, natural ingredients. They were sugar-free, with not an additive in sight.
Yet that afternoon, as the family lounged in their five-star suite, Amy, 32, noticed a splattering of red, angry spots collecting around her eldest son’s mouth. By the end of the evening, these had morphed into large, crusty blisters.
‘As first we thought he’d contracted foot-and-mouth disease,’ says Matt, an HR consultant from Tunbridge Wells.
‘But then we noticed that the inflamed, red areas seemed to be only where he’d smeared the ice lolly over his face, and where it had dripped down his arm and splattered on his chest.’
Day one: Inflamed, red areas start to appear around the mouth of five-year-old Henry after he ate a frozen lime lolly made from local, natural ingredients
Day two: The condition worsened and the inflamed patches grew more severe. Henry was suffering the beginnings of a bizarre condition triggered by a chemical reaction between sunlight, certain plant chemicals – most commonly limes – and the skin
Baffled, and desperately worried – but not able to get in touch with their local family doctor – Amy began researching online and quickly discovered the possible, and quite unexpected cause.
Henry was suffering the beginnings of a bizarre condition triggered by a chemical reaction between sunlight, certain plant chemicals – most commonly limes – and the skin.
Called phytophotodermatitis, it is thought to affect about 16 in every 100,000 people and can also be triggered by exposure to the juice of lemons, oranges and even celery, figs, carrots and parsnips. Phyto means plant, photo means sunlight and dermatitis means inflammation of the skin.
It occurs when compounds within the plants called furocoumarins react with UVA light, causing damage to the skin.
Day three: Blisters started to form on Henry’s face, as the reaction grew more severe causing damage to the skin
Day four: A few days later, the red patches had morphed into large, crusty blisters. Called phytophotodermatitis, it is thought to affect about 16 in every 100,000 people and can also be triggered by exposure to the juice of lemons, oranges and even celery, figs, carrots and parsnips
Phytophotodermatitis occurs when compounds within the plants (such as limes, stock image) called furocoumarins react with UVA light, causing damage to the skin
Mixing margaritas can be risky too: How the cocktail can leave your hands terribly burnt
It’s not just children licking lime ice lollies who can fall victim to phytophoto-dermatitis. The condition is also known as margarita burn, as it’s often seen on the hands of those preparing the famous lime-based cocktail in the hot summer months.
Recently there were reports of a woman who squeezed hundreds of limes to make margaritas for a celebration – and ended up with blistering burns on her hands.
Limes can also cause damage to the hands when preparing margaritas in hot weather
Courtney Fallon was holidaying in Florida when she spent a morning blending lime juice, ice and tequila before going to relax by the pool.
The next morning her hands were covered in huge red blisters and her skin felt as if it was ‘on fire’.
Experts say that if parents get lime on their hands and then touch their children, the youngsters can end up with red fingerprint marks if there is later sun exposure. If possible, wear rubber gloves while preparing limes or handling other fruit, vegetables or herbs known to cause phytophotodermatitis.
Telltale signs are red, itchy patches on the area of skin covered by the juice, which appear some 12 hours after exposure to strong sunlight.
Dermatologist Dr Sweta Rai, of King’s College Hospital, London, says: ‘We often see cases in spring and early summer after families who haven’t had much sun exposure go to a hot country on holiday.
‘It’s not a reaction to the juice itself, but the combination of the juice on the skin causing a reaction in the skin once exposed to sunlight.’
For most, the flare-up of burning blisters subsides within a week or two, once the skin is away from the trigger. ‘It’s important for those affected to seek specialist help as soon as possible to avoid long-term skin damage,’ says Dr Rai, who advises patients to use an anti-inflammatory steroid cream to control the inflammation, itching and discomfort.
In the most extreme cases, sufferers can develop serious bacterial and fungal infections and may even require a hospital admission to treat infected skin and prevent permanent scarring.
Initially, Amy and Matt took Henry to a local pharmacist near their Mexican resort, who gave them an antibiotic cream. A week later, back at home, the family doctor prescribed a steroid cream.’
Henry still has red patches all over his mouth and legs where the lime juice trickled down. He is still sore all over,’ says Matt, 35. ‘The paediatrician told us that they’d disappear after about two months but I’m not convinced. We’re petrified he’ll be permanently scarred.’
Dr Rai says: ‘If patients are treated promptly, the skin should recover. However, if the reaction is severe, some patients will need stronger steroid medication, and may be left with permanently pigmented areas.’
Worryingly, there is no telling who will develop a sudden bout of phytophotodermatitis and who will not.
‘We don’t know exactly how much of the juice needs to be on the skin, and in what strength sun for how long, for there to be a reaction,’ explains Dr Rai. ‘But even if you wash the juice off the skin, some could remain, and there still could be a reaction.’
Health hacks: Sing out loud for a boost of happiness
It might embarrass the kids, but singing along to the car radio can, temporarily, make you happy.
Scientists from the University of Manchester discovered that a tiny organ called the sacculus in the inner ear connects to the hypothalamus – a part of the brain that registers pleasure.
It might embarrass the kids, but singing along to the car radio can, temporarily, make you happy (stock image)
When you sing, the sacculus detects small vibrations which send instant signals to the hypothalamus, resulting in a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Psychologist Neil Todd says the buzz is similar to the thrills people get from swings and bungee-jumping, and suggests that this may explain why music has become such a cultural force.
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Writer Sarah Gaffney Lang (pictured) was diagnosed with a brain tumour three years ago at the age of 29
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