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What are Seasonal Affective Disorder Lights?

By K. Testa
Updated May 17, 2024
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Seasonal affective disorder lights treat ailments such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other mood problems. Also known as light boxes or phototherapy boxes, the devices are intended to mimic natural light. They come in different forms, sizes, and price ranges. Doctors generally prescribe their use, either alone or in conjunction with psychotherapy or medication. They have been clinically proven as an effective treatment for SAD, when used as directed.

In general, one’s mood is connected to certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, and is affected by exposure to natural light. SAD symptoms usually appear during the colder months of the year, when people are typically exposed to less sunlight, and tend to subside during the warmer months. Some common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and weight changes.

Most types of seasonal affective disorder lights are boxes or lamps. They come in varying light intensities, measured in lux, and they are used for a certain amount of time each day. Depending on the light’s intensity, it usually has to be placed in close proximity to the user to be effective. As long as he or she maintains indirect eye contact for the prescribed amount of time, one can sit near the light and perform other normal daily tasks, such as reading, eating, or watching television.

Physicians frequently prescribe light therapy to treat SAD and other mood disorders. Pharmacies, online retailers, and other specialty stores sell different types of seasonal affective disorder lights. Someone hoping to have his or her medical insurance cover the cost will most likely need a doctor’s prescription for a light therapy device.

There are many factors to consider when choosing seasonal affective disorder lights, including safety. For instance, some light boxes are intended to treat skin disorders, rather than SAD, and these types of boxes emit UV rays that could cause skin or eye damage if one is overexposed to them. As a result, seasonal affective disorder lights are designed to filter out those harmful UV rays. When choosing a light, some other practical considerations include the device’s strength and cost. For convenience, some lights also have optional features such as timers or stands.

Doctors often prescribe light therapy in combination with antidepressants or psychotherapy, depending on the patient’s particular medical situation. In addition to being a verified treatment for SAD, the lights are also used to treat some sleep disorders and depression caused by factors other than seasons. People may experience mild side effects when using seasonal affective disorder lights. Some examples can include headaches, eye discomfort, nausea, and difficulty sleeping. Doctors typically issue warnings about avoiding light boxes that emit UV rays, and they advise patients to follow all safety instructions.

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