Phototherapy is the use of light to treat various skin diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo, and others.
During treatment, the skin is exposed to a special type of light emitted by a medical device commonly referred to as a phototherapy unit. These units range from hand-held and table-top devices for spot treatment of small areas to cabinet or “walk-in” units for patients requiring full body treatment. The lamps in these units emit ultraviolet (UV) light in a wavelength that creates changes within the skin cells. The cells in most patients then begin to behave normally, which reduces or eliminates the symptoms of the skin disease.
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Is Phototherapy a Cure?
Phototherapy is very effective in treating the symptoms of psoriasis, vitiligo and other skin disorders. However, there are no cures for these conditions, so as with any treatment, flare-ups can still occur. How long the clearing of symptoms will last varies from person to person, but phototherapy treatments can begin again at any time if your symptoms return. Rebound, or the aggressive return of symptoms, is seldom seen when phototherapy is discontinued, unlike many other treatments
Once your skin is clear, your doctor will likely recommend a “maintenance” program to keep you clear longer. Maintenance treatments are typically once a week but can be as occasional as once a month.
Is Phototherapy Safe?
Phototherapy is a very safe treatment option, especially when compared to other alternatives. Possible side effects are erythema (pinkness, like a sunburn), a risk of premature aging of the skin or certain kinds of skin cancer. You should ask your dermatologist to explain these possibilities to you. When comparing phototherapy to other commonly used therapies, click here to see FDA statistics on adverse events associated with drugs commonly used for the treatment of skin diseases.
“After nearly a century of use, there is no convincing evidence that therapeutic UVB increases the risk of cancers, regardless of skin type.” John Koo, MD*
Who is Phototherapy For?
In general, phototherapy is for patients of any age with psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema and other skin disorders which respond favorably to light. It is generally considered safe for use by women who are pregnant or nursing, children, elderly patients and those who are immuno-compromised.
In a recent patient survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology (in cooperation with the National Psoriasis Foundation), phototherapy was the found to be the preferred first-line treatment for patients with moderate-to-severe cases of disease.
What is Treatment Like?
Phototherapy is a painless therapy in which affected areas of your skin are exposed to light. A common treatment plan consists of about three treatments a week over a span of several weeks. Treatment times are typically brief, usually lasting only seconds to minutes. Your doctor may suggest the use of mineral oil or other agents to make your skin more responsive to the light.
Most patients find phototherapy treatments to be less of a burden than applying and reapplying topical medications or using injectable drugs.
Can I Use Phototherapy at Home?
Yes! You can take advantage of the benefits of phototherapy in the comfort and convenience of your own home by using a smaller, personal-sized phototherapy unit as prescribed by your doctor. Home phototherapy fits well into any busy schedule and eliminates the need to leave work or school for frequent appointments, long drives to the medical center and expensive insurance co-pays.
In a study of 196 psoriasis patients, half of whom had a home phototherapy device while the other half received their treatments in a hospital, there was found to be no difference in the effectiveness or safety between the two settings but there was a greater patient satisfaction rate with home therapy.
Do I Need a Prescription for Home Phototherapy?
While we always recommend consulting with a medical professional regarding your treatment plan. You may or may not need a prescription for home phototherapy, depending on where you live. For example, in the USA a prescription is required by the Food and Drug Administration. In Canada, a prescription is not required for home phototherapy. However, if you do have a prescription, a portion of the equipment could be covered by your private insurance company or health spending account. Please contact Daavlin to learn about prescription requirements in your country.
*John Koo, MD, In the Age of Biologics is Phototherapy Obsolete, Cosmetic Dermatology, Vol. 17 No. 5 S1, May 2004.