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August 27, 2010 at 12:00 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Helen More Blogs by This Author

Light therapy (also called bright light therapy and photo therapy) has been known to help patients suffering from illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression, and lupus and in combating PMS and prolonged menstrual cycles. Since light therapy worked amazingly well on helping to shorten menstrual cycles, scientists believe it may actually be affecting female sex hormones. If that turns out to be the case, it is possible that light therapy may soon be used to treat infertility, as well.

What Is Light Therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy involves exposing patients to bright lights, suppressing the release of melatonin in the body. During light therapy, patients are instructed to sit or work near a light therapy box, which mimics bright natural outdoor light. Exposing patients to bright light in this manner is thought to alter the circadian rhythms � the body�s internal clock � and reduce the symptoms of SAD.

What Is Light Therapy Used For?

Because a light box can deliver light that is brighter than the natural light found outdoors, it allows individuals, whose internal clocks have slowed down or sped up, the chance to correct their circadian rhythms simply by being bathed in bright light. Light therapy is used as a treatment for a variety of different mental disorders.

When Should You Turn to Light Therapy?

There are a variety of reasons why an individual, together with his or her physician, might determine that light therapy is the right form of treatment. Many times a patient who ingests many pills for various mental illnesses will require an alternative approach simply because of drug side effects, such as an irritated stomach lining. Additionally, light therapy is often a better choice than conventional pills for a patient who is breastfeeding, reluctant to take pills, cannot swallow pills, or doesn�t have insurance that would cover medication. And though light therapy has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, many physicians consider it the therapy of choice when it comes to treating SAD. Additionally, light therapy is easy and noninvasive, which makes it appealing to the masses.

Are There Risks with Light Therapy?

As with any medication or form of therapy, there are some risks involved. For instance, patients who suffer from bipolar disorder or extreme depression should not use this form of therapy, as it has been linked to suicidal thoughts. While most SAD suffers experience a favorable report within one week of starting the program, it�s important that a consultation with your physician is conducted long before any therapy begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, other risks that light therapy patients might experience include sleep issues, mania, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headache, eyestrain and agitation. Because light boxes mimic the sun, they give off ultraviolet (UV) light and can cause skin and eye damage. Patients should never use a light box without first discussing it with their physician. Should side effects or a feeling of unease occur, it�s important that a physician be contacted immediately.


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