The beneficial powers of light have been recognized by many ethnic cultures across the world with many of them worshipping the sun as a god. Ancient Hindu texts dating back more than 3,000 years talk about the therapeutic abilities of light and how it can be used to treat many conditions and illnesses. Modern day science also recognizes the positives of light therapy. Many doctors recommend that their patients opt for light therapy to treat conditions like SAD, depression, jet lag, acne, resetting the biological or circadian clock to help with sleep disorders, and many others.
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What is Light Therapy?
Light therapy or phototherapy as it is also called is the science of healing with light. Light can affect the functioning of the brain and the release of certain chemicals that can in turn ease symptoms of depression, SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and others. SAD is the depression and anxiety certain people sense at a particular time each year typically during the fall and winter. By exposing them to the light therapy box, it is possible to reverse the symptoms. That’s because the device gives out a bright light that is similar to natural outdoor light, but not as strong as direct sunlight.
Benefits of Light Therapy
Phototherapy or Light therapy can be used to treat many other physical and mental conditions such as:
- Kinds of depression other than SAD
- Adjusting to working night shifts
- Skin conditions like psoriasis (using ultraviolet light), non-melanoma skin cancer, actinic keratosis, and cutaneous lesions.
- Macular degeneration
- Periodontal diseases
- White patches in the mouth
- Oral cancer
- Atopic dermatitis, a kind of allergic reaction
- Uneven skin pigmentation or vitiligo
- Eating disorder or bulimia
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD in veterans
Why Choose Light Therapy?
Light therapy is a non-invasive and safe treatment for many conditions. You can use it as a supplement to psychological counseling and antidepressants for treating stress and anxiety. Thus, you can lower the dosage of the drugs you need to take. Pregnant and postpartum lactating women could opt for light therapy to treat depression when they must avoid medication. If you can take the necessary precautions when using light therapy, it has few or no side effects.
Possible Side Effects of Light Therapy
Any side effects that you notice after taking light therapy are typically mild and last for only a short time. Most side effects disappear after the initial few days. For instance:
- Eyestrain and visual problems
- Hyperactivity, hysteria, exhilaration, or distress related to bipolar disorder
If you notice any of these side effects, talk to your therapist who might recommend that you:
- Reduce the time you spend in front of your lightbox
- Place the box at a short distance away
- Take breaks in between the sessions
- Choose a different time of the day when you take the treatment
- Set up a humidifier in the room where you’re taking the treatment
How the Therapy is Administered
You can take light therapy in the comfort of your home simply by placing the device on a table in your home or office and sitting next to it. Take care to follow the directions of your therapist and the manufacturer of the device carefully. Here’s what you need to know:
- Allow the light to enter you eyes indirectly but never look directly into the light or you risk damage. Simply exposing your skin to the light is not effective.
- You can watch TV, talk on the phone, read, or work on the computer and take light therapy at the same time.
- The intensity of the therapy you take depends on the kind of condition you want to treat. For instance, in cases of SAD, you’ll need a 10,000-lux light therapy box placed at 16 to 24 inches from your eyes. Each session must last for around 20 to 30 minutes. However, if you have opted for a low-intensity box of 2,500-lux, you may need sessions that last longer.
- Depending on your therapist’s directions, you can begin with sessions of shorter duration and increase them gradually.
- Check with your doctor for the perfect time to take the therapy. Most people find that spending 20 minutes each morning after they wake up is very effective.
- For disorders like SAD, your doctor might recommend that you take the therapy for a couple of hours in the evening stopping an hour before bedtime.
- You might start to notice the benefits within the first few days or in two to three weeks of taking the therapy.
- Take care to follow a fixed routine for the sessions.
- Patients with SAD need to begin therapy in the fall and continue until spring when natural light is enough to keep the symptoms away and maintain high energy levels. They can also check with their doctor and take longer sessions on the days when it is dark and cloudy.
- If you feel that light therapy is not enough to help with your symptoms of depression or any other condition, ask your doctor for medication and psychotherapy to supplement the treatment.
Phototherapy is a simple, non-surgical method of relieving several medical conditions. You can take the therapy by sitting in front of a lamp that emits the full spectrum of light similar to natural sunshine. You can also try to spend some time outdoors in the summer months to help ease the symptoms you’ve been feeling. In addition to lifting your mood, you’ll find that the therapy can make you feel more healthy and energetic.
- “Light Therapy” Mayo Clinic. 19 Mar. 2016. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.
- “Light Therapy – Topic Overview.” WebMD. n.d. Web. 1 Nov.2016.
- Mestrovic, Tomislav. PhD., MD. “What is Light Therapy?” News Medical Life Sciences. 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2016.
- “Wellness Therapies” Weil. n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.
- “Q&A on Bright Light Therapy.” Columbia University. n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.