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Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Oct 5;8:511-20. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S87987. eCollection 2015.

Management of atopic dermatitis: safety and efficacy of phototherapy.

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Department of Specialized, Diagnostic and Experimental Medicine, Division of Dermatology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.


Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common chronic inflammatory skin disease that can affect all age groups. It is characterized by a relapsing course and a dramatic impact on quality of life for patients. Environmental interventions together with topical devices represent the mainstay of treatment for AD, in particular emollients, corticosteroids, and calcineurin inhibitors. Systemic treatments are reserved for severe cases. Phototherapy represents a valid second-line intervention in those cases where non-pharmacological and topical measures have failed. Different forms of light therapy are available, and have showed varying degrees of beneficial effect against AD: natural sunlight, narrowband (NB)-UVB, broadband (BB)-UVB, UVA, UVA1, cold-light UVA1, UVA and UVB (UVAB), full-spectrum light (including UVA, infrared and visible light), saltwater bath plus UVB (balneophototherapy), Goeckerman therapy (coal tar plus UVB radiation), psoralen plus UVA (PUVA), and other forms of phototherapy. In particular, UVA1 and NB-UVB have gained importance in recent years. This review illustrates the main trials comparing the efficacy and safety of the different forms of phototherapy. No sufficiently large randomized controlled studies have been performed as yet, and no light modality has been defined as superior to all. Parameters and dosing protocols may vary, although clinicians mainly refer to the indications included in the American Academy of Dermatology psoriasis guidelines devised by Menter et al in 2010. The efficacy of phototherapy (considering all forms) in AD has been established in adults and children, as well as for acute (UVA1) and chronic (NB-UVB) cases. Its use is suggested with strength of recommendation B and level of evidence II. Home phototherapy can also be performed; this technique is recommended with strength C and level of evidence III. Phototherapy is generally considered to be safe and well tolerated, with a low but established percentage of short-term and long-term adverse effects, with the most common being photodamage, xerosis, erythema, actinic keratosis, sunburn, and tenderness. A carcinogenic risk related to UV radiation has not been excluded. Phototherapy also has some limitations related to costs, availability, and patient compliance. In conclusion, phototherapy is an optimal second-line treatment for AD. It can be used as monotherapy or in combination with systemic drugs, in particular corticosteroids. It must be performed conscientiously, especially in children, and must take into account the patient's features and overall condition.


NB-UVB; PUVA; UVA1; atopic dermatitis; atopic eczema; balneophototherapy; phototherapy

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