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Why Did Lime Juice Cause Severe Burns In 5 California Girls?

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Five girls in California were rushed to the hospital in August because of blisters and second-degree burns all over their bodies. But it wasn't because of a bad sunburn, or a really bad allergic reaction. According to news reports, the unexpected culprit was a coupling of lime juice and sun exposure.

A couple of days before being hospitalized, the girls spent about five hours playing outside in the pool and with a pretend lemonade stand using fresh lime juice squeezed from the limes from a neighbor's tree, the Hanford Sentinel reported.

But a day later, the girls started developing painful burns and blisters on their bodies.

"They had sunblock on. I thought everything was fine," Stephanie Ellwanger, the mother of two of the girls, 12-year-old Jewels and 9-year-old Jazmyn, told the Hanford Sentinel. "I had no idea what could've caused this."

ABC's WPVI affiliate reported that the parents of the girls initially thought they had bad sunburns. But when the girls were finally taken to the hospital -- where doctors prescribed strong pain medication because of the pain -- they were diagnosed with phytophotodermatitis, a condition that is caused by the interaction of the sun's UV rays with a compound in lime juice.

Fortunately, the girls' conditions have improved and they are well enough to go back to school, CBS affiliate KION reported.

For more details on the girls' case, watch the video from ABC News above.

Phytophotodermatitis, also known as plant and sun dermatitis, is actually an inflammatory reaction, and initially appears about 24 hours after the initial exposure as a feeling of burning with a red rash, according to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. The rash will continue to get worse for the next one to three days before getting better, and even then, it may take anywhere from weeks to months before the skin discoloration goes away.

Citrus isn't the only plant that contains chemicals that can interact with sun to cause phytophotodermatitis. The Mayo Clinic reports that wild dill, wild parsley, wild parsnip and buttercups also contain the chemicals. Because only areas of skin that come into contact with the plant chemicals are affected, the condition can sometimes look like rashes and discolorations in the form of streaks, drips and even handprints, the Mayo Clinic pointed out. The best way to prevent phytophotodermatitis is to make sure your hands are properly washed after you handle citrus fruit or other phytophotodermatitis-linked plants.

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