2 posts tagged “bright light”

Light therapy for depression: What is it, and how does it work?

Posted 9 months ago by

Bright light therapy is a treatment that’s become increasingly common for treating seasonal affective disorder, a condition that impacts many during the winter months. We sat down with our in-house research specialist to discuss light therapy – what it is, how it works and if it can help treat other types of depression in addition to seasonal affective disorder.

What is light therapy?

Light therapy, sometimes called blue light therapy or light box therapy, involves sitting or working, for a prescribed amount of time, near a device that gives off light that mimics daylight. It’s thought to ease symptoms of depression by impacting brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep.

Light therapy effectiveness: What the research says

While additional studies are needed to fully understand the role of light therapy, so far results from clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of this treatment on people with major depressive disorder (MDD) have been generally positive.

  • One study, involving 50 inpatients with severe MDD, found that when researchers combined the antidepressant venlafaxine with light therapy, recipients experienced “significantly lower HDRS depression scores” than those only taking the antidepressant. The HDRS (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) is a questionnaire that helps provide an indication of depression severity.
  • Another 8-week trial involving 122 participants living with non-seasonal MDD found that light therapy, both on its own and in combination with the SSRI fluoxetine, was effective and well tolerated in those who participated.
  • Another study found mixed results, highlighting the need for more research to fully understand the role of light therapy

It’s important to note that while these studies showed positive efficacy, researchers still don’t know what “dose” or duration of light therapy is best and for what variations of depression.

Results: What you can expect

Light therapy is unlikely to cure major depression, but it may ease symptoms, especially those related to the season, and might help you feel better. Here’s what some PatientsLikeMe members have said about using light therapy as a treatment:

Check out side effects, dosages and costs members have reported for this treatment.

Choosing a light box

Although you don’t need a prescription to buy a light therapy box, it’s best to ask your doctor or medical health provider if light therapy is a good option for you. Before beginning treatment, you should discuss whether you need to take any special precautions, and what type of light therapy box would best meet your needs so you get the most benefit and minimize side effects. You should also discuss how to introduce light therapy into your treatment regimen. Also, know that health insurance companies rarely cover the cost of this treatment.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a light box should:

  • Provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light
  • Emit as little UV light as possible

Recommendations for using the light box typically include:

  • Use the light box within the first hour of waking up in the morning
  • 20-30 minutes is generally the recommended amount of time
  • Use at a distance of about 16-24 inches from the face
  • Eyes should be open, but not looking directly at the light

Things to consider:

  • Is it made specifically to treat seasonal affective disorder? Some lights are designed to treat skin disorders, make sure you’re selecting the right one for your needs!
  • How much UV light does it release? UV light can damage your eyes if used incorrectly. Light boxes used to treat SAD should filter out most or all UV light.
  • Is it the style you need? Light boxes come in all shapes and sizes – the effectiveness of light therapy depends on daily use so choose a product that’s convenient for you.

Light boxes are designed to be safe and effective, but they’re not approved or regulated by the FDA so speak with your healthcare provider to understand your options. Read more about things to consider before choosing a product here. Do you use a light box? Share your experience and advice in the comments for choosing a product.

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It’s the Season for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Posted November 15th, 2011 by

Now that daylight savings time has ended, the days are shorter, and before you know it, it’s nightfall.  Has this affected your mood?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a condition marked by a period of depression that occurs during the same season year after year.  In most cases, that season would be fall through winter (when there is less sunlight), but for some people, SAD can occur during spring or summer.

An Example of a Light Therapy Box Used to Treat SAD

One of the best ways to learn “what’s normal and not normal?” with SAD is to compare your experiences with other patients. There are 446 patients with SAD at PatientsLikeMe, with 85% of them female and 15% male.  A commonly reported treatment is light therapy, or the use of a special light box that exposes you to bright light.  This mimics the effect of natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals that positively affects your mood.  (Does it really work?  Check out the 27 treatment evaluations for light therapy that our patients have submitted.)

What’s it like to live with SAD?  Here are some first-hand reports from members of our mental health community, who answered the question “What are your SAD symptoms?

  • “My symptoms tend to be worsening depression and anxiety.  There are no ‘indicator’ symptoms for me – meaning I don’t realize necessarily ‘Oh I’m starting to feel SAD, crap!’  But all of my Major Depressive Episodes (five so far since I was 20) have occurred in November and December.  And looking back, I can see a downward trend in especially depressive symptoms getting worse starting in mid October – such as depressed mood, more frequent crying spells, fatigue, worse insomnia, headaches worsen, weight and appetite changes, and urges to self-injure.  Three of my Major Depressive Episodes led to suicidal thoughts and short hospitalizations.  The other two, I had frequent suicidal thoughts but did not feel in danger of acting upon them.” – Member with panic disorder
  • “[Symptoms are] mild now, but they ran the spectrum from comatose to the walking functional. Kids don’t understand, and our school bus arrived at 6:00 a.m. Needless to say they weren’t hungry, food on the bus = school contraband, so I’d whip up scrambled eggs with cheese and wrap them in a taco shell and tell them to sneak a bite when they got hungry. They just threw them in the bushes for the local dogs to eat. Then I’d watch TV and answer the ever increasing phone calls all day long. If I felt OK, I’d start to prepare for the tornado that was spring.  Nowadays since I don’t have so much responsibility, my symptoms seem mild, but that could change depending on the winds of life events.” – Member with bipolar II disorder
  • “I think it varies year to year in terms of severity.  The March/April period is characterized by an increase in my anxiety levels together with restlessness and restrictive eating. The September/October period is characterized by an increase in my feelings of sadness along with intense carbohydrate cravings and a need to sleep more.  Both periods are marked by problems concentrating.  I notice that the light box really helps with the carbohydrate cravings. I think it might even make me less hungry overall.  It’s not that the cravings go away entirely, but instead they are dampened to the level where I *don’t* find myself eating cookies without realizing how I got them.” – Member with major depressive disorder

Wondering what else they patients have to say about SAD?  Or think you might experience the condition yourself?  Join PatientsLikeMe and take part in this ongoing SAD forum discussion.