Treatment

Frequently Asked Questions About Light Therapy

Deborah Gray Feb 22nd, 2013 (updated Jan 7th, 2014)
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February is a time when Seasonal Affective Disorder or (SAD) is most prevalent. There have been a lot of questions about the effectiveness and logisitcs of light therapy to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here are some answers.

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Do I need to see a doctor to treat my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Do I need to see a doctor to 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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Will replacing the light bulbs in my house with brighter ones work just as well?
Will replacing the light bulbs in my house with brighter ones work just as well?

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.

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Is it important to use full-spectrum light?
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.

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

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Can I make my own light box?
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. 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.

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Can I use use a head mounted light device?
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.

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

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How long do I need to sit in front of the light box?
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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What is the best time of day for light therapy?
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.

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Are there any side effects with light therapy?
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