Light therapy is a procedure designed to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other conditions by exposure to artificial light. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a particular time each year, usually in the fall or winter. During light therapy, you are seated or work a device called a light therapy box.
This box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect the brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms.
Using a light therapy box can also help with other forms of depression, sleep disorders, and other conditions. Light therapy can also be called bright light therapy or phototherapy.
2 Reasons for Procedure
Light therapy may be an option for you for the following reasons:
Adjusting to a night-time working schedule. Light therapy used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis is different from the type of light therapy used for the above-listed conditions.
Light therapy for skin disorders uses a lamp that emits ultraviolet (UV) light. This type of light must be filtered out in light therapy boxes used for SAD another condition because it has the ability to damage your eyes and skin.
Mania, euphoria, hyperactivity or agitation associated with bipolar disorder. When these side effects occur, they may go away on their own within a few days of straight light therapy.
You may also be able to manage side effects by reducing the time of exposure, moving farther from your light box, taking breaks during long sessions or changing the time of the day you use light therapy.
When to use caution It's always a good idea to talk to a doctor before starting light therapy, but it's especially important if:
You have a condition that makes your skin especially sensitive to light, such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
You take medications that increase your sensitivity to sunlight, such as certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or the herbal supplement St. John's Wort.
You have an eye condition that makes your eyes vulnerable to light damage.
Light therapy boxes should be designed to filter out harmful ultraviolet (UV) light, but some may not filter it all out. This type of light can cause skin and eye damage. Look for a light therapy box that emits as little UV light as possible.
If you have concerns about light therapy and your skin, talk to your dermatologist. Tanning beds:
Not an alternative to light therapy. Some people claim that tanning beds help ease seasonal affective disorder symptoms. But this hasn't been proved to work. Visible light, not the UV light released by tanning beds, is used in light therapy. The type of light released by tanning beds can damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.
Caution for bipolar disorder. Light therapy may trigger mania in some people with bipolar disorder. If you have any concerns about how light therapy may be affecting your mood or thoughts, seek help right away.
4 Preparing for your Procedure
In preparing for your light therapy, you must follow your doctor’s orders.
Although there is no need for a prescription to buy a light therapy box, it is best to ask your doctor or mental health provider if any light therapy is a good option for you. Ask whether you need to take any special precautions.
Also which kind of light therapy box would best meet your needs so you get the most benefit and minimize possible side effects? Internet retailers, drugstores, and other stores offer a wide variety of light therapy boxes.
Familiarize yourself with a variety of features and options available on light boxes to aid in ensuring that you procure high-quality products that are safe and effective. Health insurance companies rarely cover the cost.
5 What to Expect
Read on to learn more about what to expect before, during, and after your light therapy.
Generally, most people with seasonal affective disorder begin treatment with light therapy in the early fall, when it typically becomes cloudy in many regions of the country.
Treatment usually continues until spring, when outdoor light alone is sufficient to sustain a good mood and higher levels of energy.
If you typically have fall and winter depression, you may notice symptoms during prolonged periods of cloudy or rainy weather during other seasons.
You and your doctor can adjust your light treatment based on the timing and duration of your symptoms. If you want to try light therapy for no seasonal depression or another condition, talk to your doctor about how light therapy can be most effective.
During light therapy. During light therapy sessions, you sit or work near a light box.
To be effective, light from the light box must enter your eyes indirectly. You can't get the same effect merely by exposing your skin to the light.
While your eyes must be open, don't look directly at the light box, because the bright light can damage your eyes. Be sure to follow your doctor's recommendations and the manufacturer's directions.
Three key elements for effective light therapy.
Light therapy is most effective when you have the proper combination of duration, timing, and light intensity:
Duration. When you first start light therapy, your doctor may recommend treatment for shorter blocks of time, such as 15 minutes. You gradually work up to longer periods. Eventually, light therapy typically involves daily sessions ranging from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on your light box's intensity.
Timing. For most people, light therapy is most effective when it's done early in the morning after you first wake up. Your doctor can help you find the light therapy schedule that works best.
Intensity. The intensity of the light box is recorded in lux, which is a measure of the amount of light you receive at a specific distance from a light source. Light therapy boxes usually produce between 2,500 lux and 10,000 lux. The intensity of your light box affects how far you sit from it and the length of time you need to use it. A 10,000-lux light box usually requires 30-minute sessions, while a 2,500-lux light box may require two-hour sessions.
Finding time for light therapy Light therapy requires time and consistency. You can set your light box on a table or desk in your home or office. That way you can read, use a computer, write, watch TV, talk on the phone or eat while having light therapy.
But stick to your therapy schedule and don't overdo it. Some light boxes are even available as visors that you can wear, although their effectiveness isn't proved.
6 Procedure Results
If you do not understand your light therapy results, consult with your doctor.
Light therapy probably won't cure seasonal affective disorder, nonseasonal depression or other complications. But it has the ability to ease symptoms, increase your energy levels and also help you feel better about yourself and life.
Light therapy can start to improve symptoms within a few days. In some cases, it can take two or more weeks. Getting the most out of light therapy.
Light therapy is not effective for every individual. However, you can take steps to get the most out of your light therapy and help make it a success.
Get the right light box. Do some required research and talk to your doctor before buying your light box. Be consistent.
Stick to the daily routine of light therapy sessions, this helps to ensure that you make improvements over time.
Track the timing. If you interrupt the therapy during the winter months or stop too soon in the spring when you are improving, your symptoms could return.
Include other treatment. If your symptoms don not improve enough with light therapy, you may need additional treatment.
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