As the Upper Valley races towards another cold winter, we cover up our skin much more completely. Under all those layers, however, we sometimes wonder about acne, sun damage, and mysterious lumps, itches, and spots. Visible or hidden, they can cause concern. Today, let’s talk about one common dermatological treatment that can potentially help with all those conditions: photodynamic therapy, or PDT.
We will keep it simpler than Wikipedia, which has an article thousands of words long, with links to 46 research papers, and terms like “cyclic tetrapyrrolic derivatives” that are generally reserved for specialized professionals.
Instead, let’s try to demystify PDT by explaining what it is and what patients can expect when undergoing treatment.
Essentially, PDT uses waves of light or lasers to treat skin diseases and conditions. PDT is used to treat several different dermatological conditions, including, but not limited to, precancerous scaly spots caused by sun damage (“actinic keratosis” in the medical world), rosacea, and acne.
- Some patients may feel some slight discomfort during the treatment, but most have very limited symptoms.
- Treatments take about 2 hours, including 1-2 hours while patients wait for the skin to absorb Levulan, a pharmaceutical solution applied to the skin making it more receptive to light. The treated area is then exposed to a special laser light for 1000 seconds (16 minutes and 40 seconds). One common precautionary use of this process is to effectively remove precancerous cells that may develop into more serious skin conditions down the road.
- Depending on why patients undergo the treatment, PDT can be administered once a year for preventive purposes or up to once a month for several months until a condition is under control.
- Afterwards, patients may experience some redness or scaling, like a sunburn, for a period of days or up to a week. To date, there are no reported cases of scarring from PDT; in other words, there are no permanent side effects or risks.
- After treatment, the number one priority is to avoid sunlight completely on the treated area for two days. Otherwise, life continues in a normal fashion.
PDT is widely-accepted as an effective treatment for patients with long-term sun exposure because it is effective, relatively painless, and requires minimal downtime after treatment. Generally, insurance covers some PDT treatments, but specifics vary depending on individual plans.