Phototherapy using ultraviolet (UV) radiation is sometimes used as an eczema remedy, particularly for patients who suffer from atopic dermatitis. This form of light therapy has been successfully used to treat patients with psoriasis and seborrhoeic eczema.
In essence, phototherapy involves exposing the patient to ultraviolet light of a controlled intensity and frequency range for a predetermined amount of time. Usually UV phototherapy is just one element of an overall eczema remedy program. Other elements may include topical medications, diet control, identifying and avoiding exposure to irritants, exercise and more.
Despite the advantages it offers, phototherapy is not a treatment option that can be used by all eczema patients. Those whose eczema symptoms flare up or get worse when exposed to the sun and those who have other adverse reactions to the sun’s rays are not candidates for UV phototherapy. It is also not suitable for infants and young children.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of UV phototherapy used to treat eczema. UV light therapy is one type of treatment. The other involves using psoralen plus UV and is called PUVA.
In some cases, UV light therapy is used by itself. It can also be combined with the use of a topical substance like coal tar. Although coal tar preparations are messy to deal with, patients with chronic lichenified areas on their skin may find it useful.
UV light therapy makes use of ultraviolet A or ultraviolet B light waves. A combination of the two may also be used as an eczema remedy.
In most cases, light therapy is administered at a dermatologist’s office; the procedure is closely monitored by the doctor. Those parts of the skin affected by eczema are exposed to UV light in a controlled manner. The patient will be required to wear protective goggles in order to prevent damage to the eyes.
There are two types of ultraviolet B therapy – broadband and narrowband. These terms refer to the wavelengths of ultraviolet light used – narrowband therapy makes use of “narrower” or shorter wavelength light.
Broadband therapy has been in use for many decades. It tends to be quite time consuming but can be highly effective. The treatment is done three to five times each week. One of the limitations of broadband ultraviolet therapy is that it cannot penetrate to the scalp or to skin folds on the body.
Narrowband ultraviolet B therapy is a relatively newer kind of eczema remedy. It is less time consuming than broadband UV treatment – patients need to go for treatment only twice or thrice a week. It enjoys a success rate that is even higher than that of broadband treatment. However it must be used with great care because if it is used incorrectly or if the skin is over exposed, it can result in serious burn injuries.
The long term effects of both the above light therapies are not fully known. These treatments may contribute to heightened skin cancer risks.
The second type of phototherapy, PUVA, makes use of photosensitizing medication in addition to ultraviolet light. The term photosensitizing refers to medication that makes the skin more sensitive to light. Psoralen is an example of such medication. Patients who do not respond to ultraviolet light alone may find this type of phototherapy useful as an eczema remedy.
Psoralen is applied to the skin, which makes the skin more sensitive and creates the desired response. In some cases, instead of applying psoralen topically, it may be given orally or used in a bath. The affected skin is exposed to UV radiation after using psoralen. The patient must wear protective goggles not only during the treatment, but for the rest of the day as well. This is because psoralen will remain in the eyes for several hours after treatment and render the eyes unusually sensitive to light.
While this is an effective eczema remedy for many people, some patients experience side effects like nausea, fatigue, itching and headaches. There is also a chance that skin pigmentation could become irregular or that the skin may get burnt. PUVA therapy is done over a period of six months and is usually combined with other treatments like topical corticosteroids. The right combination can prove to be a highly effective eczema remedy for some patients.