Summer danger: The other ‘lime disease’

WASHINGTON – It’s a delicious way to spend a summer afternoon: Relaxing by a beach or pool with a refreshing beverage in your hand and a lime on the rim.

But think twice before squeezing that lime into your drink. Instead of a tan, you could get a nasty, itchy rash.

It’s a type of allergy called phytophotodermatitis. And because limes are involved, doctors commonly refer to the condition as “margarita dermatitis.”

“What that means is the oil from the lime, when it comes in contact with sunlight, can cause a blistering reaction, similar to poison ivy,” says Dr. Howard Brooks, a dermatologist based in Georgetown.

The lime makes the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light, creating a chemical reaction that results in the rash.

And while the resulting rash strongly resembles poison ivy, doctors have no trouble telling the two apart. Brooks says poison ivy develops in a linear pattern on the skin, while the rash from limes and sun looks more like paint dripping down the arm.

Brooks says he sees it every summer, especially with bartenders who work outside. Many times, these bartenders believe they can just wipe the lime juice off with a towel — but that doesn’t work.

The key, he says, is to wash off the juice and apply sunscreen immediately. It’s an easy, fool-proof means of prevention.

Limes seem to be the only citrus with a potential for trouble. The combination of lemons, skin and sun will not cause a rash, nor will an orange or a grapefruit.

Oddly enough, celery can also cause a phytophotodermatitis-type reaction, so be sure to wash up after swirling that celery stick in a poolside Bloody Mary.

The treatment for the two skin conditions is the same. A cool compresses and over- the-counter hydrocortisone cream will usually do the trick. However, if the rash is severe, see a doctor.

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