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eczema journey

Ultraviolet Light Therapy for Severe Eczema

Up until light therapy, my eczema skin care regimen consisted of oral and topical steroid treatment, occasionally dabbling in novelty treatments and attempting to change my diet with dismal results (I now realize 'diet' should be a permanent way of life, but that is a topic for another page). I am no stranger to ultraviolet light treatment, having gone through 30 sessions before my wedding; I was one tanned bride! But I still couldn't go through the stressful wedding preparations without prednisone, so I was a tanned AND bloated bride. I still don't like to look at my wedding photos.

So when my dermatologist suggested I go under light therapy the second time, five years after my wedding, I was a bit hesitant and skeptical. It hadn't worked the first time, had it? But she said that it is because 30 sessions is not long enough to clear my skin and that I should do it for at least 6 months. By this time, my already severe eczema had spiraled out of control and I was very depressed. It was affecting my day to day life and sucking the enjoyment out of everything I did. Now, that was not something I was unfamiliar with, but at age 29, I had hoped to be in a better shape than that, both physically and mentally.

Long story short, I took her recommendation and underwent ultraviolet light therapy for another round. I went two times a week consistently for the first few months, then once a week. It hasn't been easy or convenient, but I am glad I did this. I already wrote about light treatment in more depth, so I am going to focus on how I am doing now. Pictures are worth a thousand words, so here are some photos of how my skin looks these days, after 1 year - click to see the larger photos:

Inside right legRight kneecapRight thigh

Right footInside lower left armOutside lower left armOutside lower right arm

Also here are some photos of the light box my dermatologist office has - click to see the larger photos.

Light Box from the OutsideInside of the Light BoxLight Box Controls

The light box looks pretty futuristic. Basically, I dress down (men have to cover their genitals), step into this machine, and someone closes the door and starts the machine. My facial eczema hasn't improved much because I always put a towel over my face - this was advised because of wrinkles and premature aging of the facial area due to too much exposure to sunlight. Once the machine beeps, that means I am done.

My arms are tanned unevenly and they could use some improvement. The same goes for my back. But as far as my legs and stomach, two of the most eczema-prone areas, I can confidently say I have achieved clearance. Since I am so pleased with the result, I wanted to share the pros and cons of my experience.

Pros and Cons of Ultraviolet Light Treatment

The obvious pro is that my skin got better, so I will focus on the negatives first.

1. It is time-consuming

I have seen plenty of people who say they are willing to do 'whatever it takes' to battle their condition, but going through this particular treatment is especially time-consuming. Taking two, three days out of a week for 30 minutes might not sound like a big deal, but driving to the facility, parking, checking in, and waiting all take up time. It's much easier to slap on some medication or take some pills.

2. Not a get-better-quick scheme

As evidenced by my first failed attempt, one's skin may not show any significant improvement even after 30 sessions. That is long enough time for someone to lose patience and give up on the treatment altogether. Individual results may vary, but my skin did not show any hint of progress until 3 months into the therapy.

3. Improvement may not be permanent

I had to take a month off when work got busy and I was overseas. During that time, my back started getting flaky again. This was after 6 months of the treatment, so now might be a different story. Recently, I took 3 weeks off and my skin stayed the same - obviously not getting better, but certainly not reverting back to its old way. This tells me that the effects are cumulative - the longer I do it, the longer I stay clear - but once I stop going altogether for a prolonged period, there is a chance that eczema may come back full force. I have not gone off of the treatment yet, so I cannot tell for sure.

4. Skin Cancer

The obvious risk associated with ultraviolet light therapy. There comes a point though, when one has to choose between the "perceived" increased risk of skin cancer that may or may not happen in the future, versus feeling better NOW. I chose the latter, with the decision that I will continue to monitor my skin and keep my dermatology appointments with the utmost vigilance.

So now, the pro is that my skin feels better than it has been in the past 15 years. I can work out (it still irritates a little bit, but not enough to distract me), wear shorts and short-sleeves, even go kayaking since the beach water won't hurt me anymore. I still scratch out of habit and I still look like I am someone with eczema, but eczema no longer consumes me every moment of my life. I can sleep on my back now; before, my back would emit so much heat from the rash that I could only sleep on my side. That is no longer the case.

I wanted to document my experience in case someone was considering light therapy as a treatment option. Despite its share of the negatives, I think it worked out for me.

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