Shining light on SAD

There are several forms of treatment currently available to help people with SAD. The most effective treatments include a combination of light therapy, medications, and complementary therapies.

Light therapy
Daily exposure to bright light (phototherapy) may help balance certain brain chemicals and reset body rhythms. Usually, light therapy involves sitting in front of a high-intensity fluorescent light source that is meant to simulate daylight. Most light therapy is prescribed at 10,000 lux (a unit of illumination) for 1 to 2 hours each morning (generally less time with increasing lux values). For some people, 30 minutes to 2 hours of treatment with bright light may be as effective as antidepressant medication. You should sit in front of the box with your eyes open, but do not look directly into the light source.

Light sources include fluorescent light boxes, light visors, or light units worn on the head. White fluorescent light is safer than ultraviolet light. It may take 2 to 4 weeks before symptoms of SAD are relieved with light therapy. Talk to your doctor before choosing light therapy, as it is not appropriate for everyone. There are also certain side effects associated with this technique, including eye strain, headaches, nausea, and agitation.

Most light boxes cost between $100 and $300 and are not covered by all insurance plans. You should contact your insurance provider to determine their policy on light therapy device coverage. Ask your doctor for more information if you're considering purchasing a light box. Look for one that is CSA Group-approved (formerly the Canadian Standards Association; CSA) and has a filter to block ultraviolet (UV) light, which can be harmful to the eyes.

Some antidepressant medications may be used to treat people with more severe cases of SAD. Ask your doctor for more information about medications (and potential side effects) if you suffer from SAD.

Exercise therapy
Daily physical activity helps people overcome fatigue and depression.

Complementary therapy
Certain herbs may help treat symptoms of SAD. For example, St. John's wort may help ease depression. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any herbal products, as these medications may interact with prescription or non-prescription drugs (e.g., antidepressants). If you are already using light therapy, remember that St. John's wort and some antidepressant medications may increase your sensitivity to light.

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