Diagnosing and Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • As I said in a previous SharePost , there are other ways to treat mild to moderate Seasonal Affective Disorder besides light therapy. They include exercise, cognitive therapy and increased exposure to natural light. However, if those measures don't alleviate your SAD, you probably want to look into light therapy. Since it should be conducted under the direction of your doctor, I'm just going to explore it here in general.


    SAD is thought to be caused, at least in part, by an increase in a hormone called melatonin, which is produced by the brain when the surroundings are dark. Light suppresses the melatonin production, so light therapy brings the amount of melatonin more in line with what is produced in the summer.

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    Light therapy, which involves either a light box or a light visor, is not as simple as sitting near a light bulb or a window, although very light-sensitive people may feel an improvement with increased wattage of inside lighting. The therapeutic levels of light therapy are five to twenty times higher than indoor lighting.


    Successful light therapy requires the right combination of light intensity, the correct angle, session length and the optimal distance from the light. After you get your light box, you will probably need to measure the distance you sit from it for a few days and talk the results over with your doctor.


    A couple of caveats - light therapy has not been approved by the FDA for treatment of SAD. For one thing, this means that most insurance companies will not cover it. Also, there is a potential for side effects such as eyestrain, headaches, or irritability. As with antidepressant treatment, light therapy can occasionally cause someone to enter a manic state. However, the side effects are generally mild and will diminish. The possibility of mania is another very good reason to conduct light therapy under a doctor's care.

    In addition, there are no studies that show what the long term effects of light therapy are on the retina, so anyone undergoing light therapy should consult with their opthamologist.


Published On: March 03, 2009