Watch out for margarita disease

Watch out for margarita disease

Sunshine and fresh fruit sound like a recipe for the perfect warm weather day. But beware: That combination can cause a severe skin condition with painful blisters and scarring.

Phytophotodermatitis, also known as “lime burn” or “margarita disease,” is a reaction caused by the sun’s UV rays activating a chemical, called furanocoumarin. Limes and lemons contain high amounts of furanocoumarin, hence the disease’s nicknames. The chemical also is found in mangos, carrots, celery, parsley, figs and some wild plants.

“Phytophotodermatitis can damage skin cells and cause inflammation,” says Dr. Lauren Seline, a dermatologist at Aurora Health Care. “It can look and feel like a mild to severe sunburn and can leave a discolored scar than can last for months.”

Even small amounts of lime juice in the presence of sunlight can trigger margarita disease, Dr. Seline warns.

Your skin may not show symptoms until 24-48 hours after exposure. When blisters appear, do not break them. This can cause infection and permanent scarring. Instead, it’s recommended you visit your primary care doctor or a dermatologist right away.

In some cases, the blistering never occurs, but you may notice dark spots or streaking on the areas of the skin that may have been exposed.

Anyone who handles limes or other high-furanocoumarin foods outdoors is at risk. The danger is higher during the summer because people spend more time outside, and the sun produces stronger UV rays. Also, those who are fair-skinned are more likely to be impacted.

To avoid contracting phytophotodermatitis, wash your hands well after handling citrus fruits. Use gloves if you must handle any of them. Also, be sure to apply sunscreen, which blocks certain UV rays.

Are you trying to find a dermatologist? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

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  1. May 2, 2024 at 12:11 pm · Reply

    OMG, I just was treated about a month ago for this very thing!!!! Too much Corona and lime at the beach I think!!!

  2. This is fascinating that someone found a correlation here. I often get a patchy rash when I’m out in the sun….it’s not sunburn but more like an allergic reaction. Now I will pay attention to if I’m consuming anything citrusy at the time!

  3. Does this effect everybody? Or only certain people? Obviously the reaction will vary individually based on skin type, length of time in the sun, how much citrus was consumed, etc… I’m just curious because I have never noticed any reaction after having a vodka lemonade out by the pool.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.