Eczema treatments: phototherapy (light therapy)

Four of the young people we talked to had tried phototherapy (another name for artificial sunlight, or ultra-violet light, therapy). Evie was on a waiting list for the treatment. A few other people had heard of the treatment, such as Aman and Himesh who had been told about it by their dermatologists. Although sometimes confused with being phototherapy, red-light therapy is different and considered by some as an alternative and complementary therapy.

Everyone who had tried phototherapy was referred by their doctors. Usually the treatment took place at a hospital, although Vicky’s took place at a local community GP clinic. Shams found it a strange experience going to the hospital for phototherapy, especially the first time. He said it got easier once he knew the routine and where to go for appointments.
Phototherapy was seen as the ‘next step’ or ‘last resort’ after trying to get control of eczema with emollients and steroids. Georgia saw it as a more ‘natural’ alternative to using steroid creams and some used the treatments in combination. Not all doctors thought it was a good treatment for eczema though. Some said their doctors didn’t seem to know of phototherapy as a possible treatment for eczema. Cat’s first dermatologist recommended phototherapy which she had for a few months. When Cat moved to a new city for work, she saw another dermatologist who wanted her to try immunosuppressant treatment instead. Others, like Shams, didn’t notice much difference to their eczema whilst using phototherapy.

A few people noticed that being in the sun helped their eczema and thought phototherapy would be helpful for them. Some people said at first they thought phototherapy would give them “a nice tan”. In reality, it was more like a bit of sunburn for a couple of days after each session. Cat found this was noticeable (especially in winter) and was awkward to explain. Some people were concerned about long-term damage from skin cancer risks. Georgia found her skin was dry and sore for a while after each treatment. Her doctors worried that her skin wasn’t healing properly. Goggles should be worn to protect the eyes.
A practical issue is fitting phototherapy sessions around school and work. People had treatment two or three times a week and some did this for several months. Georgia worked part-time when she had phototherapy. Her appointments were made to fit around her work hours which meant she didn’t have to take any time off. Some people said that appointments at the hospital often don’t run on time and even though the actual treatment only took seconds, the trip to the hospital and wait could be time-consuming. Shams stopped phototherapy after a few months because he didn’t find it made much difference to his eczema and getting to the hospital was very inconvenient.


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