Frequently Asked Questions about Light Therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • February is just about upon us and this is frequently a time when Seasonal Affective Disorder or (SAD) is most prevalent.  There have been a lot of questions about the affectiveness and logisitcs surrounding light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. In this sharepost I'd like to address some of the Frequently Asked Questions regarding light box therapy as a course of treatment for SAD. 

    1. Do I need to see a doctor to diagnose and treat my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

    As with any mood disorder, a formal diagnosis is highly recommended. For one thing, it's essential to rule out any hidden conditions that might be causing the depression, like thyroid dysfunction. For another, you will need the SAD diagnosis to have your health insurance provider pay for treatment.

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    2. Will replacing the existing light bulbs in my house with brighter or different bulbs work just as well as light therapy?

    Because of the importance of such factors such as positioning and distance from a light source, as well as the time spent in front of a light source, it's unlikely that this would give you anything close to a therapeutic dose.


    3. Is it important to use full-spectrum light?

    The color of full-spectrum light mimics sunlight much more closely than fluorescent light. In terms of light therapy effectiveness, it's no more effective than fluorescent. Whether you use it or not instead of fluorescent light is really just a preference in terms of color.


    4. How much does a light box cost? Is it covered by insurance?

    Light boxes are cheaper than they used to be. They range in price from about $100 up to $400. The light box may or may not be covered by your health insurance.


    5. Can I make my own light box?

    Possibly, but it's worth doing your research first to determine whether you're really saving money or not. Light boxes have dropped in price over the last decade or so, and a good quality box can be had for around $100.


    If you do decide to make your own light box, there are a couple of caveats. One if that it's essential that you use some kind of diffuser, such as an opaque panel of glass or acrylic in the front. Not only does this spread the light out evenly, but it also helps to protect your eyes and skin from UV light emitted by the bulbs.


    6. I don't want to sit down for that long a period of time. Can I use use a head mounted light device?

    If you really don't have the time to sit down in the morning, the most effective time for light therapy, a head mounted light visor is an option. However, they tend to be more expensive than light boxes, and have not proven to be as effective as a light box. A light visor might be a good option for anyone who travels frequently, though.


    7. Do I need to stare into the light for it to work?

    No, you don't. In face, if your light box does not have a diffuser, as you could damage your corneas or retinas.


    8. How long do I need to sit in front of the light box?

    You will have to do some experimentation to find the optimum amount of time for you, but the range runs from about twenty to ninety minutes per day.


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    9. What is the best time of day for light therapy?

    Many people respond best when the light therapy takes place right after waking. Some people find it's more effective when they have their light therapy later in the day. It may depend on the person's particular circadian rhythm - whether they're an early bird, a night owl or somewhere in between.


    10. Are there any side effects with light therapy?

    Possible side effects from light therapy are:

    • Headache/eyestrain
    • Nausea
    • Dry mouth or eyes
    • Irritability
    • Mania, euphoria, agitation or hyperactivity similar to bipolar disorder
    • Sleep problems

    Side effects are generally mild and might go away on their own.


Published On: January 28, 2012