Phototherapy or light treatment is an effective treatment for eczema. With phototherapy, various wavelengths of sunlight (UVB, UVA, combined UVA/UVB, UVA1, or narrow-band) are administered in a unit that is similar to a telephone booth but which is lined by fluorescent appearing light bulbs. The type of phototherapy that you will receive will be determined by your dermatologist. It is usually administered twice weekly. Possible side effects of phototherapy are redness, sunburn, or dryness. Long-term side effects, which are more likely with white skin, are possible skin cancers and enhanced aging.
The doctor may suggest hospitalization simply because it may be necessary to break the cycle of chronic inflammation, or other problems that are exacerbating the illness. Frequently, five or six days of vigorous in-hospital treatment care can result in a dramatic clearing of the eczema. Food tests, allergy skin testing, and the development of an outpatient therapy plan can all be done during the hospitalization. Unfortunately, getting approval from insurers is often difficult. During an acute flare the number of 15-20 minute baths must be increased to three or four per day. Besides hydrating the skin, baths also increase the penetration of topical medication up to ten-fold if the medicine is applied immediately after the bath. Wet wraps after baths may also help hydration and medicinal penetration. Bedtime wet wraps are most practical, and can be done with elasticized gauze followed by ace bandages or double pajamas. (The first pair of pajamas is worn damp but not soaking wet, and a second pair of dry pajamas is worn over them. For a tighter fit, sometimes a plastic sauna suit is used instead of the dry pajamas.) For feet and hands, socks can be used. Additional blankets or increased room heat may be necessary during this three to seven days to prevent chilling.
It is important to use the correct amount of topical steroid for your eczema, as instructed by your healthcare professional. Topical steroids should be applied with clean hands so that the skin just glistens. It can sometimes be difficult to judge how much steroid to use and there are guidelines on the amount required to cover body areas that are affected by eczema. These are based on the Finger Tip Unit (FTU), and explained in detail in our fact sheet which you can download as a pdf from the related documents to the right of this page.