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Phototherapy for Atopic Dermatitis

Phototherapy is the supervised use of ultraviolet (UV) light to treat skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis. Ultraviolet B (UVB), ultraviolet A (UVA), or a combination of UVB and UVA may be used during therapy.

During phototherapy, you stand in a booth that contains light tubes that give off UV light. Goggles should be worn to protect your eyes during treatment. Men need to shield their genitals to avoid an increased risk of genital cancer.

What To Expect After Treatment

As your skin recovers from treatment, it should be checked frequently (at least once or twice a year) for signs of skin damage or skin cancer.

Why It Is Done

Phototherapy may be used for mild, moderate, or severe cases of atopic dermatitis in adults. It is used only for severe symptoms in children.

How Well It Works

Phototherapy with ultraviolet (UV) light can be an effective treatment for severe atopic dermatitis. Combined UVA and UVB light have a more beneficial effect than UVA or UVB light alone.

UV light may help prevent bacterial infections, which are a particular problem in people with atopic dermatitis.

Risks

Risks related to phototherapy include:

  • Skin cancer and cancer. Exposure to UV light may result in skin cancer. The male genitals are highly susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of UV therapy.
  • Skin damage. Exposure to UV light may lead to sunburn and skin damage.
  • Cataracts. The risk of cataracts can be reduced by regular use of sunglasses that block UV light when you are outdoors.
  • Other skin diseases getting worse.

UVA produces fewer and milder short-term side effects than equal doses of UVB light.

What To Think About

Treatments are usually given 2 times a week. UVB treatment requires little time (from seconds to minutes). UVA treatment is more time-consuming (typically 20 minutes for a treatment).

A similar type of treatment, psoralen plus ultraviolet light therapy (PUVA), combines a type of medicine (psoralen) with ultraviolet A (UVA) light to treat atopic dermatitis. The psoralen makes the skin more sensitive to the ultraviolet light. This therapy has additional risks but it makes the UVA light more effective.

Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAmy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last RevisedApril 17, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 17, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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