This was why she became a flight attendant. The 26-year-old caught a layover in the Caribbean and took full advantage. While our sources only tell us she “had significant sun exposure,” how could that have come from anywhere but a nice, long layout on the beach? A Caribbean layover is like a miniature free vacation. On the flight to the islands, she had done what flight attendants do: She checked the overhead bins, handed out peanuts or pretzels, and served drinks. This last task required her to cut up limes—lots of them, presumably—as garnishes. She cut limes, she handled them, she perched them on the edges of plastic cups. Later, a doctor would tell her that this was her mistake. After her day in the sun, the flight attendant’s forearm erupted in tremendous painful blisters. The blisters followed a dripping path across her arm—a path first blazed by trickles of lime juice that bled from the fruit when she was preparing garnishes.
Sun and citrus don’t mix.
This poor flight attendant’s story comes to us via Medscape. The site outlines her misfortune in a case study describing a painful condition called phytophotodermatitis. Doctors with a wicked sense of humor might call it “lime disease.” Phytophotodermatitis occurs when chemicals found in certain fruits and vegetables interact with the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Watch out for carrots, parsley, lemons, and, yes, limes. Heat, sweat, and wetness make the problem even worse.
Blisters and redness follow, but they’re sneaky. They don’t show up until a few days after the exposure. This delayed onset makes phytophotodermatitis a real panic-inducer. How would you feel if you woke up with hideous chemical burns on your hands and had no idea what caused them? “Patients come in quite concerned when they have a rash like this,” Joshua Zeichner, a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Today. “It raises a lot of panic.” We’ll spare you the media gallery on this one. If you have a strong stomach and a burning (sorry) curiosity, search Google Images for “phytophotodermatitis.” You’ll see why panic makes sense in this case.
Save the summer with an abundance of caution.
You don’t have to swear off citrus between May and September, even if you did just look at the pictures. (You did, didn’t you?) The good news is that phytophotodermatitis is easy to prevent. “Lime burn can be prevented by immediately washing off residue with soap and water or cleansing towelettes,” Today reports. That’s another great reason to pack a few pre-moistened wipes in your beach bag. Go ahead and put the lime in the coconut and drink ’em both up—just make sure to scrub your hands clean afterward.
And although sunscreen won’t protect you if you’re drenched in lime juice, be sure to apply the lotion liberally. With or without chemical reactions, sunlight can be dangerous in large doses. Dermatologists caution everyone to use lots of broad-spectrum sunscreen, preferably a water-resistant brand with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. Armed with these tips, you should be able to enjoy a chilled drink the next time you relax on the beach. We can think of one flight attendant who’ll enjoy her Caribbean layovers a lot more knowing how to prevent phytophotodermatitis.