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Phototherapy and atopic eczema

publication date: Jul 17, 2015
author/source: DrB
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Despite our modern concern about the dangers of getting too much sun, the healing potential of sunlight has been known about since ancient times, when it was thought it was the red light, and the heat of the sun, that was therapeutic: the important ultraviolet (UV) rays were not discovered until 1801.

In 1856, Florence Nightingale in the United Kingdom protested against the orientation of the Royal Victoria Hospital near Southampton, observing that no sunlight could enter its wards.

In 1877 sunlight was shown to kill germs, and in 1893 in Denmark, Finsen first used filtered sunlight to successfully treat tuberculosis of the skin. He went on to use an artificial light source, the “Finsen Lamp”, and opened the first Phototherapy Institute in Copenhagen. At a time when no antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs were available, Finsen’s phototherapy was a major breakthrough in skin therapy: in 1903 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

The treatment was made first available in England at The London Hospital in 1899.

Now the British Association of Dermatologists sees phototherapy for skin disease as a widely available low cost outpatient treatment for inflammatory skin diseases, including atopic eczema. It is usually a hospital based treatment, and is offered when topical treatment has proved unsatisfactory, and eczema is moderate to severe - before systemic treatments are considered.

There is concern however that phototherapy treatment for skin conditions should be properly regulated: achieving a consistent standard across the UK is recommended, for patient safety and quality of care.