Eczema is a chronic skin condition that makes your skin dry, red and itchy. The affected areas of your skin can become crusty or scaly, and they may even ooze. Since there's no cure for eczema, living with this condition can be frustrating. However, treatments are available to help control the symptoms, including phototherapy, also called heliotherapy. Here are three things you need to know about phototherapy for eczema.
What is phototherapy?
Phototherapy is a treatment that uses ultraviolet (UV) radiation to treat eczema and other skin conditions. This UV radiation will be delivered through a specially-designed cabinet in your dermatologist's office. This cabinet is similar to a stand-up tanning bed, but unlike in a tanning salon, your UV exposure will be carefully monitored.
Three to five times a week, you'll need to go to your dermatologist's office to be exposed to the radiation. At first, each session may only last for five minutes, but over time, you'll need to remain in the cabinet for longer periods of time. After each session, your skin will be slightly pink, but you won't usually get a sunburn.
How does phototherapy treat eczema?
Recent research has shown that phototherapy works in multiple ways. The UV radiatiation makes your stratum corneum—the outermost layer of your skin—thicker, which makes it harder for irritants to pass through your skin and trigger your eczema symptoms. The radiation also targets the immune cells within your skin and suppresses your immune response; since eczema can be caused by your immune response, this can be helpful. Plus, UV radiation has an antibacterial affect, and since bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus can be involved in eczema flare ups, this can help control your condition.
How well does phototherapy work?
Phototherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for eczema. One study of 107 patients reported that 93% experienced a beneficial effect. Another study found that 80% of patients had a good to excellent response to phototherapy.
While phototherapy is effective for many people, there are barriers that can make it harder for some people to continue the treatment. Complying with the treatment can be difficult because you need to go to your dermatologist's office multiple times a week. The discomfort associated with skin redness—and occasionally sunburns—can also make you not want to continue with your treatments.
If you suffer from eczema, ask your dermatologist, like Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center PS, if phototherapy is a good treatment option for you.