Phototherapy

Overview

Definition

Phototherapy uses lightwaves to treat certain skin conditions. The skin is exposed to an ultraviolet (UVB or UVA) light for a set amount of time. Phototherapy uses a man-made source of UV light. UV light also comes from the sun. UVA treatment is usually combined with a medication called psoralen, the procedure is known as psoralen UVA (PUVA). The choice of treatment may depend on the condition being treated.

This topic does not cover phototherapy for jaundice in babies.

Possible Complications

The UV lights may negatively affect your skin in a number of ways, including:

  • Skin conditions could temporarily worsen
  • Itchy skin
  • Red skin due to exposure to the lights
  • Burning of the skin
  • Ocular toxicity (photokeratitis)

PUVA treatment may also cause:

  • Nausea and appetite loss
  • Burning skin
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

If you have received a great number of phototherapy treatments, you may be at risk for:

  • Cataracts—lens of eye becomes cloudy, affecting vision
  • Premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkling and dryness
  • Age spots or freckles
  • Skin cancer

Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Allergy to sunlight
  • Pregnancy or nursing
  • Medical conditions, such as skin cancer or systemic lupus erythematosus , that require you to avoid the sun
  • History of skin cancer
  • Liver disease—phototherapy may increase medication levels in the blood

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Treatments

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org 

National Psoriasis Foundation http://www.psoriasis.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Eczema Canada http://www.eczemacanada.ca 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

American Academy of Dermatology’s newest guidelines for the management of atopic dermatitis focus on treatments. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/american-academy-of-dermatology-s-newest-guidelines-for-the-management-of-atopic-dermatitis-focus-on-treatments. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Indications for phototherapy. Derm Net AZ website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/cme/phototherapy/indications-for-phototherapy/. Updated November 10, 2014. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Phototherapy. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/treatments/phototherapy. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Psoriasis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116742/Psoriasis . Updated December 4, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Psoriasis: General principles for phototherapy. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/practicecenter/quality/clinical-guidelines/psoriasis/phototherapy-and-photochemotherapy. Accessed December 18, 2017.

UVA photo(chemo) therapy. Derm Net AZ website. Available at: http://www.dermnetnz.org/doctors/phototherapy/uva.html. Accessed December 18, 2017.

UVB phototherapy. Derm Net AZ website. Available at: https://www.dermnetnz.org/cme/phototherapy/uvb-phototherapy/. Accessed December 18, 2017.