Light energy can offer remarkable therapeutic benefits, especially in photodynamic therapy applications. This treatment, also known as PDT, uses light to activate special drugs that eliminate harmful cells in the body. This innovative approach enables medical experts to treat a wide range of conditions in less invasive ways, including those involving the skin.
Juan-Carlos Caballero, MD, and our team of specialists at Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center in Warrenton, Virginia, use this form of light therapy for conditions ranging from acne to sun damage and pre-skin cancer. If photodynamic therapy may be on the horizon for you, here’s what to expect from your appointment.
How photodynamic therapy works
Photodynamic therapy can treat both noncancerous and cancerous conditions, inside and outside the body.
It starts with photosynthesizing drugs. These medications concentrate in unhealthy cells and make them more sensitive to light. Depending on the affected area, you either receive medication in a pill, intravenously through a vein, or directly on the skin.
After you receive the photosynthesizing medication, the treatment site is exposed to a special light. When a person gets PDT in internal areas, such as the airways, lungs, or throat, the provider uses an endoscope with a light to reach them.
When exposed to the light, the photosynthesizing medications react, triggering a chemical reaction that destroys unhealthy cells.
Photodynamic therapy offers numerous benefits, such as:
- Less invasive and more targeted results
- No known long-term side effects
- Safe to repeat in the same area, if necessary
- Minimal chance of scarring
Plus, Dr. Caballero and his team perform PDT as an outpatient procedure.
What to expect during photodynamic therapy
Treating a skin issue with PDT can take 30-120 minutes.
First, the skin at the treatment site gets thoroughly cleansed, and the team applies aminolevulinic acid, a clear liquid, to the area. Once absorbed, the site is exposed to the special light.
Types of light used during photodynamic therapy include:
- Blue light
- Red light
- Intense pulsed light
- Pulsed dye laser
- Natural sunlight
At this point, you may experience minor discomfort, but cold air and fans usually provide relief.
Once treatment is complete, you can usually resume regular activities immediately. However, it’s crucial to follow your after-care instructions and exercise extreme caution regarding sun exposure.
What to expect after photodynamic therapy
Photodynamic therapy may not be invasive, but it causes extreme light sensitivity that requires diligent attention.
After having photodynamic therapy, it’s essential to avoid light and protect your skin until you completely metabolize the medication. That means staying indoors whenever possible. If you can’t, you must take protective measures, such as wearing thick sunblock with zinc oxide, hats, scarves, sunglasses, and long sleeves. Light sensitivity can last for weeks post treatment.
In addition to light sensitivity, you may experience redness and peeling at the treatment site. Other short-term side effects from PDT can include:
- Skin discoloration
- Swelling near the treatment site
- Stinging, burning, or itching
- Blisters, crusts, or scales
- Skin infections
However, these symptoms typically fade within 1-2 weeks, and even people with severe reactions have excellent results from PDT treatment.
Could photodynamic therapy help with your skin condition? To learn more, call 540-701-4656 or request an appointment online with Warrenton Dermatology & Skin Therapy Center today.