24 September 2013


It's exactly what the word says - skin (derma) inflammation (itis) caused by exposure to plants (phyto) and sunlight (photo).  My wife has experienced it after brusing against rue in our garden (which we raise for the Black Swallowtails).  Other plants capable of photosensitizing human skin are listed in the Wikipedia entry, and include wild parsnip (which we encounter frequently while hiking in our part of the Midwest), parsley, celery, lemon, and lime.

The photos above are from a report on a group of children burned after playing with lime juice.
What at first seemed to be overexposure to the sun blossomed into softball-sized blisters and second-degree burns. Her girls, Jewels, 12, and Jazmyn, 9, wound up spending several days in an intensive care unit, hooked up to morphine to manage the pain...

A neighbor had a large lime tree that grew over the fence into the backyard where the girls went swimming. They had picked some of the fruits and squeezed them out into imaginary tea cups in their play lemonade stand... She remembered the girls crushing the fruits, juice sliding down their arms, splashing their legs, hitting their faces. 
The tricky part is that even after initial clinical resolution, the victim has to minimize exposure to sunlight because the light can cause recrudescence of the lesions even without reexposure to the sensitizer.

Via Nothing to do with Arbroath.


  1. This happened to my brother when we were kids. Everyone where I lived had citrus trees, but for whatever reason I don't think any of us had ever seen such a thing before. Him and a neighbor had an afternoon of chucking dead fruit at each other (mooshy leftovers that fell to the ground) and some time later he was covered with blisters and passed out. Doctor at the hospital knew exactly what it was, said there's a narrow window every season that he sees dozens of cases.

  2. In Latvia (and Baltics) we have serious problem with plant - Heracleum sosnowskyi or Sosnowsky's Hogweed - that was introduced here during Soviet times for it's biomass as a crop for cattle:

  3. Ahh, those poor kids!

    When I was in college, I was taking St John's Wort which can cause photo sensitivity, which I knew. I spent a day helping my mom at the construction company she ran, making copies of blue prints. Blue prints are copied using photo sensitive paper, and run through a machine with a bright light that's really aimed only at the paper. I never felt overly warm/hot while using it, didn't have to use sunglasses or anything. But apparently I was exposed to enough light that my ears, nose, and cheeks got mildly burned.

  4. Could you please put this under the fold? I may be more sensitive to such images than the average joe, but things like this actually give me nightmares and are difficult for me to excise from my brain once seen... Sorry to be a wet blanket!

    1. I try to put death, gore, and sexually explicit images under the fold, but not disease, which is part of life and needs to be recognized. Sorry.

    2. That's ok, it's my problem anyway (i'm the kind of person who looks away from the screen a lot in cinemas, the grey area between "disease" and "gore" is a bit skewed with me compared to others, i think!) and it won't be long before it's off the bottom of the page anyway, i just won't scroll down =)

  5. Wow - I have had something similar to this, but never this severely. The first time I got it was the most awful - i helped pick pears and then a day or two later my hands swelled up terribly and itched to the point of pain - I had to sleep with my hands draped in front of the aircon to be able to sleep and took several days off of work because I couldn't type. This was nearly ten years ago. Since then i have gotten it every summer from an assortment of green things - blackberry bushes, sumac trees, general garden plants. The good news is every time i get it it is less severe and I keep a tube of steroid cream handy for outbreaks. I am a gardener and an outdoorsy person, so I refuse to give up on plant handling. This year is the first year that I don't think I have gotten it at all. Thank heavens I live in the frozen north where citrus cannot thrive!


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