What is Phototherapy?
Phototherapy is the use of a medical device that emits very specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo and other conditions. Narrow Band UVB is the most commonly used type of light as it is easy to administer, is very effective and has only a few, easily managed side effects.
PUVA, another form of phototherapy, is a generally reserved for the most serious cases as light in the UVA range is used in conjunction with a photosensitizing drug called Psoralen. Clearance rates are higher and remission times are longer with PUVA but the therapy is more difficult to administer and may have more serious side effects.
Am I a Candidate for Phototherapy?
Phototherapy is appropriate for those with moderate-to-severe disease. Typically 3% to 10% body involvement is considered moderate while 10% or more is deemed to be severe. For an average sized person, the size of your hand (including fingers and thumb) is equivalent to about 1% of your total skin area.
What is Treatment Like?
There are phototherapy devices designed to serve a wide variety of cases. For instance, targeted devices, are designed to be focused on small areas of the body. Because incidental treatment of normal skin is avoided, higher levels of light can be used which may result in quicker resolution of disease.
However, where there is widespread disease, larger area treatment devices such as hand/foot units, half-body or full-body devices may be used. Your physician will suggest a device that is appropriate for your condition.
A typical treatment regimen is three exposures per week. In the beginning, treatments times may be just seconds long but they will gradually increase in length. With psoriasis, clearance will require 25 to 30 treatments if the therapy is consistently used. The regimentation of vitiligo is generally a slower process.
Your physician may require that sensitive areas of your body, or those areas unaccustomed to sun exposure, be shielded or treated with sunscreen prior to treatment.
Is It a Cure?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a “cure” for these chronic skin conditions, but about 85% of psoriasis patients achieve significant clearing with Narrow Band UVB. Upon cessation of treatment, symptoms may gradually reappear after several months of remission, so your physician may suggest a maintenance series of treatments to keep your skin clear.
Is it Safe?
Yes, phototherapy is considered to be very safe. Sunburn-like symptoms are the most common problem. Over time, phototherapy may contribute to premature aging of the skin and there may be a slightly increased risk of certain kinds of skin cancer.
Is it Safe for Everyone?
Phototherapy has a very positive safety profile, especially when compared to many alternative therapies. It may be used by pregnant women, children and people who are immunocompromised. As with any treatment, if you are considering phototherapy, make sure that your physician is fully aware of any health conditions you have and any medications you are using.