What is Light Therapy
Light therapy—or phototherapy, classically referred to as heliotherapy—is a method recognized by scientific medicine for the treatment of various diseases. It includes exposure to outdoor daylight or specific indoor artificial light sources.
The care guideline for unipolar depression recommends light therapy especially for depression that follows a seasonal pattern (seasonal affective disorder). There is tentative evidence to support its use to treat depressive disorders that are not seasonally dependent. As a treatment for disorders of the skin, the second kind of light therapy, called ultraviolet light therapy, is meant to treat neurodermatitis, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, eczema and neonatal jaundice.
Light therapy treatments for the skin usually involve exposure to ultraviolet light. The exposures can be to a small area of the skin or over the whole body surface, as in a tanning bed. The most common treatment is with narrowband UVB, which has a wavelength of approximately 311–313 nanometers. Full body phototherapy can be delivered at a doctor's office or at home using a large high-power UVB booth. beds, however, generate mostly UVA light, and only 4% to 10% of tanning-bed light is in the UVB spectrum.
As of 2012 evidence for light therapy and lasers in the treatment of acne vulgaris was not sufficient to recommend them. There is moderate evidence for the efficacy of blue and blue-red light therapies in treating mild acne, but most studies are of low quality. While light therapy appears to provide short-term benefit, there is a lack of long-term outcome data or data in those with severe acne.
Light therapy is considered one of the best monotherapy treatments for atopic dermatitis (AD) when applied to patients who have not responded to traditional topical treatments. The therapy offers a wide range of options: UVA1 for acute AD, NB-UVB for chronic AD, and balneophototherapy have proven their efficacy. Patients tolerate the therapy safely but, as in any therapy, there are potential adverse effects and care must be taken in its application, particularly to children.
According to the American Cancer Society, there is some evidence that ultraviolet light therapy may be effective in helping treat certain kinds of skin cancer, and ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy is established for this application. However, alternative uses of light for cancer treatment – light box therapy and colored light therapy – are not supported by evidence. Photodynamic therapy (often with red light) is used to treat certain superficial non-melanoma skin cancers.
For psoriasis, UVB phototherapy has been shown to be effective. A feature of psoriasis is localized inflammation mediated by the immune system. Ultraviolet radiation is known to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammatory responses. Light therapy for skin conditions like psoriasis usually use 313 nanometer UVB though it may use UVA (315–400 nm wavelength) or a broader spectrum UVB (280–315 nm wavelength). UVA combined with psoralen, a drug taken orally, is known as PUVA treatment. In UVB phototherapy the exposure time is very short, seconds to minutes depending on intensity of lamps and the person's skin pigment and sensitivity.
About 1% of the human population has vitiligo which causes painless distinct light-colored patches of the skin on the face, hands, and legs. Phototherapy is an effective treatment because it forces skin cells to manufacture melanin to protect the body from UV damage. Prescribed treatment is generally 3 times a week in a clinic or daily at home. About 1 month usually results in re-pigmentation in the face and neck, and 2–4 months in the hands and legs. Narrowband UVB is more suitable to the face and neck and PUVA is more effective at the hands and legs.
Low level laser therapy has been studied as a potential treatment for chronic wounds, and higher-power lasers have sometimes been successfully used to close acute wounds as an alternative to stitching. However, as of 2012 and due to inconsistent results and the low quality of extant research, reviews in the scientific literature have not supported its widespread application.
Other skin conditions
Some types of phototherapy may be effective in the treatment of polymorphous light eruption, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and lichen planus. Narrowband UVB between 311 and 313 nanometers is the most common treatment.
There is preliminary evidence that light therapy is an effective treatment for diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular oedema.