Uses of light therapy in medicine

20170812060000, Arlyana Saliman
Ray of hope: Uses of light therapy in medicine
Newborn infant baby boy receiving phototherapy for jaundice at the hospital.
Throughout the ages, the Sun has been a focus in many early civilisations for the light and the life that it brings.

The discoveries of many health benefits of light have gradually paved the way for the development of reliable alternatives in today’s world of medicine.

Here, we shed some ‘light’ on the form of therapy inspired, by nature to treat our modern ailments.

Early practitioners discovered that light can heal


The 1903 Nobel Prize in Medicine winner Niels Ryberg Finsen pioneered the use of light therapy to treat lupus patients. Particularly, he had used concentrated beams of UV light to treat patients with lupus vulgaris – a form of TB that attacks the skin, especially on the face and neck.

Health practitioners poured in to seek knowledge at the Finsen Institute in Copenhagen, which was dedicated to studying the effects of light in curing people of disease.

Natural sun therapy (heliotherapy) and artificial light therapy using lamps (phototherapy) also soon became popular as a form of treatment by the 1920s.

Decades before the discovery of modern medicine – sunlight and clean, dry air were the recommended treatments for patients suffering from tuberculosis. Photo credit: CAP-TB/abergelepost.com
Decades before the discovery of modern medicine – sunlight and clean, dry air were the recommended treatments for patients suffering from tuberculosis. Photo credit: CAP-TB/abergelepost.com


The therapy caught on and inspired, among others, to the opening of London’s Institute of Ray Therapy which operated from the 1930s to 1950s.

In the meantime, the use of UV light in hospitals to treat rickets in ‘sickly’ children and babies had taken off ever since the 1800s. However, this practice eventually died down, as vitamin D could then be added into milk. It was also discovered that after all, not a lot of light is required to get enough vitamin D.

The various uses of light therapy in today’s context


Today, we see a wide range of uses of light therapy.

Light therapy is used to bring down the level of bilirubin in jaundiced newborns. While it is common to use an enclosed plastic crib or incubator, some medical facilities also use a biliblanket or a portable light vest, which can be worn on the baby.

Light therapy can be used as a non-invasive treatment for pain relief, which can be in the form of a home device, or offered in a medical facility. It can be used among others – to treat arthritis, sport injuries, neck and back pain. The therapy penetrates deep into the tissues – stimulating blood circulation, reduces inflammation and relieves muscle spasms.

Light therapy can also help to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that typically occurs during fall and winter. Hunkered down with shorter days and reduced sunlight exposure, SAD can bring on feelings of sluggishness and hampers daily activities. A light therapy box, imitating natural outdoor light, is thought to ease symptoms of SAD by affecting brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep.

Each type of SAD therapy light may have different required distances and treatment times – depending on the exact lux they emit or the kind of light. Photo credit: SAD.org.uk
Each type of SAD therapy light may have different required distances and treatment times – depending on the exact lux they emit or the kind of light. Photo credit: SAD.org.uk


Light therapy is also used in aesthetics to rejuvenate the skin, smooth blemished skin or prevent acne and wrinkles. Known as light-emitting diode therapy (LED) or photodynamic therapy (PDT), the treatments are a fuss-free albeit costly alternative to a skin-care regimen.

Generally safe; but exercise caution


While light therapy is generally safe, there should be ample cautionary advice on its use.

Side-effects of light therapy include headaches, eye strain, irritability, sleep disturbances and insomnia. These are often mild and will disappear after a few days.

Photosensitising medications can make the skin sensitive to light and cause skin reactions. This includes medications like lithium, melatonin, certain antibiotics and some acne medications.

Patients with a history of skin cancer and systemic lupus erythematosus should also avoid undergoing light therapy. Likewise, for patients with diseases that involve the retina of the eye, like diabetes. MIMS

Photo-therapy treatment with red light, one of the anti-ageing methods for beauty-conscious individuals to combat the biological clock. Photo credit: doesitreallywork.org
Photo-therapy treatment with red light, one of the anti-ageing methods for beauty-conscious individuals to combat the biological clock. Photo credit: doesitreallywork.org


Read more:
Life expectancy and spread of infectious diseases in Malaysia – a paradoxical increase
China: Elderly ladies try out ‘sun and rock’ therapy
Breakthrough treatment against drug-resistant tuberculosis under trial

Sources:
https://www.statnews.com/2017/08/03/light-therapy/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4936522/
https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1903/finsen-facts.html
http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/raytherapy.html
http://www.bioptron.com/
https://www.news-medical.net/health/Light-Therapy-Safety-and-Side-Effects.aspx