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Psoralen Plus Ultraviolet Light Therapy (PUVA) for Atopic Dermatitis

Treatment Overview

Psoralen plus ultraviolet light therapy (PUVA) combines a type of medicine (psoralen) with ultraviolet A (UVA) light to treat atopic dermatitis. The psoralen makes the skin more sensitive to the ultraviolet light. PUVA can be an effective treatment for severe atopic dermatitis.

An example of a psoralen is methoxsalen (Oxsoralen).

A psoralen medicine is taken 1½ to 2 hours before exposure to UVA light. This treatment is repeated 2 to 3 times a week, and treatment length varies. The dose of medicine is not increased, but the amount of light can be increased.

During photochemotherapy, you stand in a booth that contains light tubes that give off UV light. Goggles should be worn to protect your eyes during treatment. Men need to shield their genitals to avoid an increased risk of genital cancer.

What To Expect After Treatment

As your skin recovers from treatment, it should be checked frequently (at least once or twice a year) for signs of damage or skin cancer.

Why It Is Done

PUVA is usually only used for adults who have severe and hard-to-treat cases of atopic dermatitis. It typically is not recommended for children.

How Well It Works

PUVA is effective in managing hard-to-treat atopic dermatitis.

Risks

Risks related to PUVA treatment include:

  • Skin cancer and cancer. Exposure to UV light may result in skin cancer. The male genitals are highly susceptible to the cancer-causing effects of UV therapy.
  • Skin damage. Exposure to UV light may lead to sunburn and skin damage.
  • Cataracts. The risk of cataracts can be reduced by regular use of sunglasses that block UV light when you are outdoors.
  • Other skin diseases getting worse.

What To Think About

Because of the side effects, PUVA is not generally recommended for children unless all other treatment fails to control severe atopic dermatitis.

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Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Amy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised April 17, 2012

Last Revised: April 17, 2012

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