Meet the ‘real life vampire’ whose skin is actually allergic to sunlight

Meet the ‘real life vampire’ whose skin is actually allergic to sunlight

We all know somebody who can't go out in the sun without burning. Yes, there are plenty of naturally-pale people out there who can't enjoy more than an hour at the beach without getting crispy all of a sudden. No matter how much sunscreen they slather on their bodies, or how much they stay in the shade, the end result is still the sun: red marks from top to bottom, just like a real-life vampire.

Now you might well think I'm exaggerating here, but the fact of the matter is that there really are real-life vampires out there: people whose skin is so sensitive to UV rays, that they're forced to either live a nocturnal existence, or cover their entire bodies. Author Julie Rohrdanz, who hails from Marshalltown, Iowa, is one such person - and when she ventures out of the safety of her dark and shady home, she has to wear brimmed hats, face masks, scarves, long sleeves, gloves and sunglasses, in order to protect her skin.

Julie suffers from polymorphic light eruption, a rare genetic condition which results in her skin bursting into hives when exposed to daylight. Julie's mother and grandmother also suffered from polymorphic light eruption, although thankfully her young daughter has managed to escape it thus far. Julie has been aware of her condition for around ten years, but was only officially diagnosed four years ago. At the time, she worked as an accounts sales manager, which meant that she was often driving around the country. She noticed that the sunlight that would shine through the windows and windshield of her car would often trigger a reaction, leaving her skin itchy and irritated.

Commenting on her condition, Julie stated:

"I’m really just keen for more people to know about the illness. People joke that we’re all vampires … I promise we are not. There is so much social stigma surrounding photosensitivity, but it is not contagious ... Even if it was only slightly sunny, my skin burned like I was standing too close to a fire. That’s when I realised something was really, really wrong. As my mother suffered from sun allergy I was pretty certain of what it was. So, I straight away visited my local dermatologist. After listening to my symptoms, he diagnosed me with polymorphous light eruption."

She added:

"Whereas UVA light penetrates into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer, UVB rays will usually burn the superficial layers of your skin. I’m affected so severely I can actually react to interior lights ... I wear black sunglasses, a shawl, or long sleeves, a hat and a fisherman-style net over my face. I do look a sight, but, luckily, no one has said anything unkind. It enables me to go outside, and so it’s worth it ... I’m determined not to miss out on my life because of this illness."

However, things are now looking up for Julie ever since she was prescribed a zinc-based cream to soothe her hives, and a course of hydroxychloroquine - a drug also used in the treatment of malaria. So next time you've managed to burn yourself, pay a little thought to poor Julie, and don't forget to moisturise!