Light boxes are sometimes sold in retail stores, like drugstores and department stores; however, simply picking one to use as part of a treatment for depression isn’t the most beneficial approach. To pick a proper light box for treating depression, you need to work with your doctor to maximize the benefits and reduce the risk of side effects. If you and your doctor decide light therapy is a suitable treatment, either on its own or in conjunction with anti-depressant medications, your doctor can suggest a light box or prescribe a special kind from a pharmacy or medical supply company. Light therapy boxes vary in duration and intensity, and you’ll need your doctor’s help to pick the right one. Your insurance may cover the cost of a light box if prescribed by a docto.
Light therapy is most commonly used as a way to treat seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, a type of depression that can occur in the fall and winter months. Light therapy boxes mimic bright outdoor light and regular treatment may help positively affect chemicals in the brain that help lessen the symptoms of seasonal depression.
Picking a Light Box
Treating Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, affects nearly 4 to 6 percent of the general population, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Light therapy treatment for seasonal depression usually begins in the early fall, continuing until early spring when more natural light is available. However, some people suffer from SAD in the summer or during prolonged periods of gray skies or rain. The Mayo Clinic recommends working with your doctor to create a treatment plan based on your particular symptoms.
Light therapy is fairly simple for the user. To work properly, light from a light therapy box must enter your eyes indirectly, meaning your eyes need to be open, but you can’t look directly at a light box – this could cause eye damage. Most people use a light box in the morning by placing it near where they are sitting or working. There is also a dawn simulator light box that works on a timer and gets brighter until you wake up. Your particular regimen should be coordinated with your doctor for the maximum benefit.
In general, light therapy using a light box is considered safe, but if your eyes are sensitive to light, you have macular degeneration or a family history of macular degeneration, or you are at risk of eye problems, speak with your doctor in-depth about these issues before beginning light therapy.
Side effects of light therapy treatment can include headache, eye strain, nausea, sleep problems, irritability and dry mouth; however, side effects are usually mild, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Mayo Clinic: Light Therapy: Definition
- Mayo Clinic: Light Therapy: Why It's Done
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Seasonal Affective Disorder
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: Seasonal Affective Disorder
- PsychEducation.org: Light Therapies for Depression
- The New York Times: Light Therapy for Depression
- Mayo Clinic: Light Therapy: Risks
- Mayo Clinic: Light Therapy: How You Prepare
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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