Well, it’s that time again. Fall is here and winter is on its way. Our days will get shorter and we’ll see less of the sunshine.
Some of us are affected by this reduction in daylight and slip into a down mood which is referred to as SAD; Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is a form of depression that occurs as a result of reduced exposure to sunlight in the fall, winter and spring.
One way to treat SAD is by exposure to artificial light.
Light Therapy is highly recommended when SAD symptoms are severe enough to affect our daily lives. This simple treatment involves sitting within 23 inches of a special light source of 10,000 lux about 30 minutes a day.
In some cases, I’ve noticed some patient’s mood lifts after 3 sessions, and some respond in little as 15 minute sessions. What’s so cool about it is that there are so many simple light sources. One style resides in the visor of your cap!
Are there any side effects or conditions where light therapy should be avoided?
Research studies exclude patients with ocular or retinal pathology (for example, glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment, and retinopathy) and those who might be at risk (for example, predisposing factors of diabetes). No adverse effect of light therapy has been found in ophthalmologic examinations of SAD patients, but because this is a new technology, such caution is warranted.
Individuals who have light sensitivity should consult their Primary Care Physician before starting the therapy.
How long has this treatment been in use?
The first demonstration of clinical effect was at the National Institute of Mental Health in the early 1980’s. Soon after, several research centers initiated clinical trials, and more than 2,000 SAD patients have been studied to date.
The method has also been used in private practices, mostly by psychiatrists, but also by family doctors and psychologists. The number of clinicians offering light therapy is increasing dramatically year by year though compared to drug treatments or psychotherapy, the method is not yet in widespread use.
How effective is light therapy for S.A.D.?
Most studies have shown that about 75% of S.A.D. sufferers experience improvement when using light therapy. Though results cannot be guaranteed, this is a high success rate compared to treatments available for other forms of depression. You can increase your chances of success by adding some of the following to your self-care plan:
- Take daily walks outdoors
- Set a timer to turn a light on early in your bedroom, or try a dawn simulator for a more gradual artificial dawn
- Increase aerobic exercise, particularly under bright lighting conditions
- Take opportunities to travel south during the winter season
- Take steps to manage your stress
- Consider counseling to help with self-esteem issues and stress management
- Consider counseling or medication to manage other forms of depression
Can light therapy help with other concerns?
It can be difficult to distinguish S.A.D. from other forms of depression. Most of the symptoms, except for the seasonal pattern, are very similar. Although light therapy is unlikely to cause any harm, it is also unlikely to be very helpful in treating non-seasonal depression. You meet with a counselor before using a light box so that you can be clearer on what forms of treatment are likely to be most useful for your specific concerns.
There are no known negative effects of using light therapy in conjunction with counseling or medication, but some commonly used antidepressants do increase skin sensitivity to light. Be sure to check with your PCP to see if any of your medications call into this group. If so, you would want to reduce either the length of light exposure or the light intensity used.
Where is treatment available?
There are a number of options for using light therapy to treat SAD. We encourage you to schedule a consultation appointment with Dr. Andrews to assess appropriate services and answer your questions.
A Light Therapy lamp is available in our office just waiting for you to come over for a 20 to 30 min ‘tea break’. A comfortable couch or chair awaits you. Just call 717-303-0505 and schedule a time convenient to you.