Light therapy has been used for various purposes. From treating skin problems to affective disorders, it is considered an effective alternative to synthetic medication. Find out more about light therapy including how it is done, its benefits, and even potential risks.
What It Is
Light therapy is also known as heliotherapy or phototherapy. As all names suggest, this therapy is attributed to the sun. In fact, the whole point of this therapy is exposure to illumination akin to natural outdoor light. Here, a light therapy box is utilized. It could emit light of varying wavelengths. The kind of light would depend on the kind of condition that is being targeted. The doctor will also determine the specific time it should be used.
So what is lightning therapy really for? Here are some situations when doctors might prescribe this type of intervention.
This autoimmune condition affects the skin. A person with psoriasis has noticeable skin patches that look red and scaly. Severity varies from patient to patient. So where does light therapy come in? Given that psoriasis is an autoimmune disease-induce inflammation, ultraviolet radiation goes a long way. Research shows that exposure to ultraviolet radiation keeps inflammation at bay by helping the immune system to suppress it. The ideal time of exposure is intermittent and extremely short lasting for from a couple of seconds to a minute only. The typical light wavelength should not exceed 400 nm.
Unlike psoriasis that occurs in patches, atopic dermatitis resembles red and itchy skin rashes instead of scaly spots typical to psoriasis. It is a common allergic reaction that can flare up from time to time. If topical creams do not work, doctors might recommend light therapy. However, since children are mostly affected by atopic dermatitis, therapy must be mild and exposure to radiation should be short with longer intervals. Consult your child’s physician before going for light therapy for your kids.
Although very rare, vitiligo has both physical and emotional impact because of how it affects skin pigmentation. Here, noticeable white patches form on the skin. This can be disconcerting for people with darker skin since the white patches become even more noticeable. Light therapy has been proven to be effective in this situation. Therapy can last to at least a year or more. Since more intense light wavelength is needed, this therapy might be administered in a hospital or a clinic that specializes in this type of therapy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
As the name suggests, this disorder has something to do with the season. As seasons change, so does one’s mental and emotional state. SAD is a major depressive disorder commonly associated with winter when there is less warmth and limited sunlight. People with SAD report feeling hopeless and worthless and often have thoughts of suicide especially during the winter season. However, when spring or summer comes along, they feel their mood improving. This is where light therapy comes in. At a strong 480 nm, full spectrum light is emitted from the light therapy box with the patient sitting at the direct path of the light at a distance of no more than 60cm. Eyes must be kept open but should not be looking directly at the light. Persons with SAD usually do this at least once a day for at least half an hour to an hour.
Light therapy is also big in the alternative medicine world. In fact, it is being used to supposedly correct imbalances of energy levels. Each kind of color that the light emits is said to address a specific focal point of the body from which energy flows. Here are those focal points and the specific color of the light that addresses each of them:
- Violet or white – pituitary gland
- Red – spine
- Indigo – pineal gland
- Green – heart
- Blue – thyroid and throat
- Yellow – celiac plexus located in the abdomen
These are some conditions that light therapy can purportedly help improve but how effective it is remains inconclusive:
- Skin Cancer
- Lichen planus
- Healing of wounds
- Diabetic macular oedema
- Bipolar disorder
- Postpartum depression
- Non-seasonal depression
- Sleep disorders
- Neonatal jaundice
- Jet lag
As mentioned earlier, results are still inconclusive. Do not use this as a treatment for any other condition unless prescribed by your doctor.
Just with any form of intervention, light therapy also comes with risks. Here are some of them for you to consider especially if you are thinking about undergoing this type of therapy:
- Light always has the capacity to hurt your eye. If used irresponsibly or inaccurately, this might cause serious damage to the eyes. Do not attempt to stare directly to the light. For higher wavelengths, patients are asked to wear dark goggles. Without them, you might have impaired vision.
- Ultraviolet radiation can be dangerous to your skin. Too much exposure can cause grave skin damage and can even lead to skin cancer. Make sure you stick with specified amount of time to prevent this from happening.
- Nausea, headache, eye irritation, irritability, agitation, mania, and euphoria after undergoing a session of light therapy have been reported in the past. If you experience any of these as you start with light therapy, discontinue the whole process and see your physician.
- This therapy should be avoided by pregnant and lactating women.
- Make a disclosure about what medication you have been maintaining. This way, your doctor can see if light therapy mixes well with your maintenance meds or not.
Light therapy definitely has its upside. If done correctly, one can reduce the risk of developing adverse reactions. However, self-medicating with light therapy boxes readily available practically anywhere may not be a good idea. Before using it, you should consult your doctor in order to ascertain the degree of light wavelength needed, the duration of the therapy, and the specific time it should be used. Only then will you be able to fully enjoy the benefits light therapy can offer.