The use of phototherapy in dermatology has become a standard means in treating some, if not all, skin problems that are not that easy to remedy. Many believe that the sun’s rays are helpful to the skin, which is why the medical industry has been developing devices that yield controlled amounts of artificial ultraviolet light with only the specific characteristics needed for maximum therapeutic utilization.
Most dermatologists recommend phototherapy for skin diseases that still have no permanent cure, including dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo. With phototherapy, the disease can be alleviated since UV light suppresses the abnormal reactions that are symptomatic of the condition being treated.
Why the need for phototherapy? Can’t I just expose myself under the sun?
Phototherapy can provide control over the intensity and the type of ultraviolet rays it emits, unlike exposing one’s self to the sun. For the duration of the therapy, the affected area is exposed to ultraviolet light through either a light box or smaller devices, such as handheld UVB lamps, for direct exposure. The eyes are always secured with goggles in every session.
Since excessive exposure to, or improper use of, light therapy can cause sunburn and other side effects, phototherapy is usually left to seasoned dermatologists who are qualified to administer this form of treatment and observe its side effects on the body. They prescribe treatment options and timetables that are based on each patient’s condition.
Different Types of Phototherapy Devices
There are different types of phototherapy to treat various types of skin problems; and there are also different types of phototherapy devices that produce varying wavelengths of UV light. In general, there are two types of UV light: UV-A and UV-B. Both can be produced in broadband or narrowband sources. Broadband or narrowband light is more often used in UV-B phototherapy. The dermatologist would be the one to determine which would be most appropriate for the patient’s skin. There are also separate devices specifically designed for UVA and UVA1, as well as special equipment for targeted exposure. UVA1 is a fairly new therapy that is being used to treat skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis, scleroderma, and HIV-positive psoriatic patients.
Phototherapy instruments are also manufactured in various shapes and sizes. Those found in derma centers often take the shape of a booth, where the patient can go in to, and the entire skin can be exposed to ultraviolet light at one emission, and in a uniform way. There are also phototherapy lamps that are handheld, similar in size to hair curling irons; and there are also light boxes that are commonly used for the hands and feet. Each device has their differences, and some may even be purchased for home use. Still, buying a phototherapy unit requires a doctor’s prescription to ensure that the apparatus’ specifications are the right one for the patient.
Making use of phototherapy in dermatology is, perhaps, the best alternative in treating “hopeless” skin disorders. While it cannot always permanently heal the person from the disease, phototherapy has been proven to be a safe way of reducing and alleviating the symptoms of many skin diseases in a huge percentage of patients.