There are almost eight million people in the United States that suffer from psoriasis. It is an autoimmune disease; it causes lesions to occur on the skin where the cells are in hyper-drive, making more skins cells than are needed. This skin condition can be itchy, irritating, and cause other medical problems too. There is no known cure for psoriasis. While there are prescription drugs and creams available to help with the symptoms of psoriasis, there is a non-drug option available to sufferers as well. It’s called light therapy.
How Does it Work?
There are several different types of light therapy for psoriasis, including natural sunlight, lasers, UVA, and UVB. Sunlight has been used for many centuries to help prevent psoriasis outbreaks. The naturally occurring UVA and UVB lights work in concert to slow skin cell growth. When used regularly and in conjunction with a diet high in vitamin D to help fight inflammation, natural sunlight can help psoriasis sufferers ease some of their symptoms.
UVB treatments use the same growth slowing process, but the rays can be more focused, pointing directly to the lesion. The UVB rays help to slow the cells much like sunlight while not forcing the patient to sunbathe for hours. UVB treatments are available both at home and at a doctor’s office. Much like sunlight treatments, the UVB treatment requires repetition to be effective.
UVA treatments differ from UVB treatments in that they require medicine taken orally or used topically along with the light therapy. UVA rays by themselves do not slow the growth of skin cells, and so they cannot be used as an effective tool alone. Although UVB treatment is more common, the medication and UVA treatment combination are more effective for most individuals.
The last kind of light therapy is called laser therapy. While some laser therapies are just super concentrated UVB lights that help to slow growth in areas with thicker skin, there are also pulsed dye lasers. These lasers work by targeting not the skin cells, but the blood vessel underneath. The pulsed dye lasers destroy the blood vessel, helping to prevent the psoriasis lesions from forming ever again.
Risks and Side Effects of Light Therapy for Psoriasis
So what are the risks of light treatments? The sunlight (or tanning bed) treatments can cause skin cancers and skin damage if used long term. Using sunscreen and covering up skin unaffected by psoriasis when tanning can help to prevent these. Another possible side effect of tanning is cataracts in your eyes, which can be caused by UVA and UVB light. This can also be prevented, however, by the use of eyewear that helps to block UVA and UVB light. The side effects of UVB treatments are similar to tanning treatments; skin cancer and skin damage can be caused by too much UVB light, even though the light is concentrated in one area.
The combination of medicine and UVA light has its own side effects. The oral or topical medication that goes along with the treatment, called psoralen, causes nausea in many patients. While this treatment is effective, it is still used sparingly by the medical community. It puts patients at a much greater risk of skin cancer, especially light-skinned patients, than any of the other methods. It is usually reserved for severe cases of psoriasis.
Pulsed dye laser treatments also have side effects, but they are mostly cosmetic. These lasers have been known to cause painful bruising in the treatment area. This usually lasts for about ten days after treatment. Also, these lasers can cause permanent scarring. Pulsed dye lasers are also usually reserved for the worst cases of psoriasis.
In conclusion, there are many types of light treatments available for those suffering from all different levels of psoriasis. Although none of these treatments are without side effects, they can help to manage the pain, itchiness, and discomfort of chronic psoriasis. Talk to your doctor today about the best treatments for your body and unique needs.