Recently, the BBC World News web site reported on light therapy for psoriasis sufferers. This therapy is rarely given in the UK because of the purported need for the treatment to be given in hospital. However, Dutch researchers have now reported that this specialist light treatment can be given just as effectively at home.
What is psoriasis?
is an inflammatory skin condition and usually means discomfort. Psoriasis causes thick red marks (that look like scales) to form. The thick scaling is due to an increase in the number of skin cells. We all have T cells (a type of white blood cell) which usually protect us from infection and disease by attacking bacteria.
When we have psoriasis, our T cells attack our skin cells instead
Our body immediately responds by producing more skin cells. A normal skin cell matures in 21 to 28 days but a psoriasis cell will only take 2 to 3 days. The result is an accumulation of dead cells and live cells in visible layers. The final appearance is of raised red patches of skin covered with silvery scales.
What equipment is needed for light therapy?
The equipment is similar to a tanning bed but with a different type of light – namely UVB light. The treatment works by dampening down the immune overreaction in the skin. A course of treatment is usually 3 times per week for between 8 and 10 weeks. The equipment could be hired or lent to patients so that they could undergo the treatment at home.
Some people with psoriasis might even be in a position to buy their own equipment for home use.
In this recent UK study, patients with psoriasis from 14 hospital dermatology departments were randomly assigned to receive either home UVB phototherapy or hospital-based treatment.
The result of the study found that the safety and effectiveness in clearing the condition was the same in both home and hospital. The home treatment patients had the added advantage of not having to travel to the hospital and were therefore even happier with the result.
In the USA, light therapy is given under the supervision of a physician and is available in dermatologists’ offices, psoriasis day-care centers, phototherapy clinics and some hospitals. In some cases in the USA, the treatment is administered at home too. Home is an economical and convenient choice for many but sufferers would still need to be treated initially at a medical facility before they begin to use a light unit at home. Monitoring by a health care professional would need to be ongoing. In the US, all treatments including the purchase of equipment for home use require a prescription.
What is UVB?
UVB is present in natural sunlight and penetrates the skin and slows down the growth of affected skin cells. During treatment, the psoriasis may worsen temporarily before improving. This worsening may mean the skin may redden and itch. Sometimes the amount of UVB will need to be reduced. Occasionally, temporary flares occur with low level doses of UVB but these reactions tend to resolve with continued treatment.
If you have been diagnosed with psoriasis
, light therapy is an option worth investigating. And it would seem that the USA is more “go ahead” about home treatment than the UK has been up to now.