For patients with eczema, UV light therapy is a commonly recommended treatment. The process involves exposing the skin to UVA and/or UVB radiation under carefully controlled conditions. The entire body or only those portions currently exhibiting symptoms are treated with light while the eyes are protected with goggles. In the past, a broad spectrum of light was used in this therapy. Now, narrowband UVB radiation may be selected instead – especially for hard to treat areas like the scalp. The risk of burning is higher with narrowband light, but the frequency of treatment sessions may be reduced by about 50%. Some patients may also be given a photo-sensitizing agent called psoralen to increase the effectiveness of the UV exposure.
The wavelengths selected for use in these UV lamps have a tendency to suppress the immune system. The effect is slight; but for some patients it is sufficient to reduce the hyperactive immune response that triggers eczema. Reduced inflammation leads to less redness, swelling, and itching. Bacteria (which can contribute to skin rash symptoms) are also sensitive to ultraviolet radiation. The bacteria load on a patient’s skin may be reduced using light therapy. Finally, for some patients, this treatment may reduce or eliminate the need to use corticosteroids.
How to Access Treatment
The therapy is carried out in a dermatologist’s office using a light box equipped with the correct type of lamps to generate the desired level and wavelength(s) of radiation. Sunbathing or visiting a tanning salon is not an appropriate substitute. However, since frequent sessions may be needed on an ongoing basis to treat severe or recurring eczema, some patients do purchase a light box for home use. This should be done only on the recommendation of a medical professional after UV therapy has been shown to have some benefit for the patient. Overuse or misuse of the equipment may increase the risk of skin cancer, so following the treatment plan and the manufacturer’s instructions is critical.
Light Therapy is Not for Everyone
There is a small portion of the eczema patient population that has an adverse response to UV therapy even when it is done properly. Individuals who experience a flare up in their symptoms after exposure to sunlight usually fall into this category. This reaction generally occurs on areas of the skin that are hit by most directly by the sun’s rays. For example, the forehead might have a rash but the area underneath the chin might be clear. This pattern is something dermatologists should look for when deciding whether or not to prescribe UV light as a treatment for eczema.