PUVA phototherapy is a combination of psoralen (P) and long-wave ultraviolet radiation (UVA) that is used to treat many different skin conditions. Psoralen is a drug taken by mouth that makes the skin disease more responsive to ultraviolet light.
Psoralen has been used in combination with sunlight for the treatment of skin disease for centuries. The medication is taken one hour before ultraviolet light treatment. One to two days after treatment, the skin becomes red. Light treatment is given 2-3 times per week for 12-15 weeks. After 15 weeks, maintenance therapy is often required once a week.
Are there side effects of PUVA Phototherapy?
Following are some of the potential adverse reactions…
- <1% Headache and dizziness
- 1-2% Skin burn and blistering
- 4-8% Nausea
- 4-8% Redness of the skin
- 10-20% Itching
- 20% Stinging sensation
- 100% Tan or darkening of the skin
Most of the side effects are temporary. People who have had PUVA have an increased risk of squamous cell skin cancer, which is a common form of skin cancer easily treated by minor surgery. PUVA causes the skin to look older (photo aging). PUVA can also cause white and brown spots to appear on the skin and can cause cataracts to form if the eyes are unprotected while receiving treatment.
How does PUVA work?
A typical PUVA session consists of coming into the office, removing clothes from the affected body areas and standing in a five foot square by seven foot high light box. The lights are then turned on for 1-10 minutes.
The length of each session is increased by a small amount over the previous session. You must wear protective goggles and groin protection (underwear or towel) while in the light box.
Patients must wear UVA-absorbing, wrap-around sunglasses for twenty-four hours following a PUVA treatment. These glasses must be worn outside and indoors if any sunlight is coming into the room through a glass window. You must also avoid sunlight on the skin for 24 hours after a PUVA treatment.