Light and its Therapeutic Use

Using light to treat aches, pains, depression and skin disorders is becoming quite common these days and it is being recommended more and more as an effective therapy where drugs have no role to play. Light therapy, or phototherapy, is a procedure where the body is exposed to daylight or subjected to artificial light for a specified number of hours. Daily exposure to this light is considered to have a healing effect on those with a number of ailments, including SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

How does Light Therapy work?

Light and its Therapeutic UseIn this therapy, a light box which emits up to 10,000 lux of light is used and the patient has to sit in front of it at a comfortable distance for about 30 minutes a day, preferably early in the morning. Morning therapy is considered most effective because it is believed that light early in the morning helps in regulating the circadian rhythm. You are not required to look directly into the light but the eyes have to be at a given distance from the light source and the light has to strike the retina. The light should be projected downwards towards the eyes at an angle to reduce aversive visual glare. The patient can sit in front of the light box and eat, read or write but should not look directly into the light.

Skin disorders are treated using ultraviolet wavelengths. UV light is not effective in treating SAD and hence, the lightbox used to treat SAD is designed to filter out UV rays.

Two types of light therapy are there - targeted light therapy and non-targeted. Non-targeted therapy is the use of light boxes to treat SAD or non-seasonal disorders. Targeted therapy is used to treat acne and other skin disorders and is administered via specific wavelengths of light using polychromatic polarised light, lasers, light-emitting diodes, fluorescent lamps, dichroic lamps or very bright, full-spectrum light. Targeted therapy cannot be administered by self and has to be given in a clinic. This light is made to focus only on the affected skin areas thus leaving the unaffected areas unexposed to the light. Treatment is usually with narrowband UVB (NB-UVB) which is the safest wavelength.

Light Therapy and Diseases

Light Therapy and Seasonal Affective Disorder

  • SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a form of depression which occurs due to reduced exposure to sunlight in fall, winter or spring. SAD is the most common type of seasonal mood disorder affecting a person usually during winter when there is less sunlight. Symptoms include depression, excessive sleeping, eating, listlessness or lack of energy. Light therapy is considered to be a highly-recommended treatment option for this condition by therapists.
  • Light therapy is also said to treat non-seasonal disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, and postpartum depression.

Light Therapy and Pain

  • A recent research came up with the conclusion that unconventional light therapy can be used to get rid of chronic pain. This is being touted as an amazing breakthrough and though a lot more experiments and studies are required before this can be established, it is quite a great discovery that rules out the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of pain.
  • The findings, if and when proved, can be quite crucial in the treatment of patients with severe and debilitating nerve damage.

Light Therapy and Skin Disorders

  • Psoriasis, a chronic skin disease, is said to be treated quite effectively by UVB phototherapy. The wavelength usually used in the treatment of psoriasis is NB-UVB, which is 311 nm (nanometer). But sometimes, therapists may also use UV-A (315-400 nm) or UV-B (280-315 nm) wavelengths. A short duration of exposure to the light is required in this case.
  • Narrowband UVB phototherapy is reportedly considered to be an effective treatment for vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes depigmentation of parts of the skin.
  • Infrared red and blue light therapy is increasingly being regarded as an excellent way to treat acne. However, there is no proven long-term benefit of this. Short-term changes have been seen, though.
  • Other than acne, phototherapy, as in narrowband UVB lamps (311-313 nm), is considered effectual in the treatment of eczema, atopic dermatitis, polymorphous light eruption and lichen planus.

Other Conditions treated by Light Therapy

Also treated by light therapy are chronic circadian rhythm sleep disorder (CRSD), delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), situational CRSD and neonatal jaundice. Additionally, light therapy is also the treatment given for insomnia and the eating disorder bulimia.

Light Therapy Side Effects

Light therapy for sleep disorders may cause edginess, nervousness, headache, irritation in the eye or nausea. It is not recommended for those who are prone to manic depression or people with eye problems such as cataract, glaucoma, retinal detachment or retinopathy. UV light can cause damage to the human skin and be the cause of cataracts. Those with sensitive skin should consult a doctor before going for light therapy. Some doctors have warned that the blue light could damage the retina and increase risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Therefore, any treatment with light should be done under a doctor’s supervision and one should not try to self-medicate. Before starting on such a therapy, you will need to inform the clinician about any drugs you might be taking, if you are allergic to something, whether you have an eye problem and/or photosensitive skin condition.

Bright light therapy reportedly activates the production of reproductive hormones like testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and estradiol.

Healing Light Therapy Products

The light therapy products available in the market today are generally considered safe and reliable. The desk lamp from Northern Light Technologies SADelite Desk Lamp is a user-friendly therapeutic light and spreads good cheer during the dark, depressing winter months. It has a recommended usage of 30 minutes a day to be effective. The SunBox SunLight Plus 10000 Lux SAD Lamp is intended for use by SAD sufferers. The Anti-Aging Light Therapy Panel by LED Technologies treats all skin ailments related to aging and gives a healthy, glowing, youthful skin.

Light and its Therapeutic Use        Light and its Therapeutic Use        Light and its Therapeutic Use
Northern Light Technologies SADelite Desk Lamp        LED Technologies Anti-Aging Light Therapy Panel        SunBox SunLight Plus 10000 Lux SAD Lamp

However, it is advisable to consult a doctor before embarking on any kind of light therapy.


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