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Light Box, Light Boxes, Light Box Therapy

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In the depths of winter, you may turn your face to the afternoon sun, seeking out what little light filters through fading gray skies. You may throw open the blinds, leave lights on throughout your home or even head south for a vacation — anything for a little more light. For people with a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), this need for light takes on greater significance. Light box therapy may be instrumental in treating potentially debilitating symptoms of this disorder.

Light box therapy, also called phototherapy, have been used to treat seasonal affective disorder since the early 1980s. Although the light boxes used to deliver light therapy haven't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, light box therapy is considered standard treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Light box therapy is safe and effective, easy to use and generally has no major side effects.

Light box therapy entails sitting with your eyes open in front of a light box — a small, portable device of plastic or aluminum that contains fluorescent bulbs or tubes. The bulbs are covered with a plastic screen that helps block out potentially harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause cataracts and skin problems. You can set the light box on a table or desk in your home or in your office.

In order to work, the light from the box must enter your eyes indirectly. You can't get the same effect by exposing your skin to the light. Don't look directly at the light box because the light can damage your eyes.

Simply sitting in front of a lamp in your living room won't relieve the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Indoor lights don't provide the type or intensity of light that's necessary to treat the condition. The specialized light boxes used for seasonal affective disorder emit light that's comparable to outdoor light just after sunrise or just before sunset.

Here are some considerations when buying a light therapy box:

Intensity

Look for a light box that allows you the right intensity at a comfortable seating distance. Some light boxes offer 10,000 lux only when you're within a few inches of the box, while others can reach a distance of nearly two feet.

Light 10,000 lux

Though bright light for helping with seasonal affective disorder is based on high intensity light, 10.000 lux, some light devices use full-spectrum light bulbs that is close to outside light during the summer months.  This full spectrum light is more beneficial in that it has "blue" light.  The blue light has been shown to be 3-5 times more affective in treating SAD.

Light direction

Light seaps in through your eyes.  You should not look directly at the light.  Rather, you should put the light box at either the 10:00 a.m. or the 2:00 p.m. position to get the best results.

Blue light

Exposure to the blue light spectrum should be minimal since it may cause vision problems, such as glare or macular degeneration.

Cost

Prices vary greatly, from about $150 to $500. Insurance doesn't always cover light box therapy. Check with your insurance company to see if your benefits will cover the cost.

Style

Some light boxes look like upright lamps, while others are small and rectangular. You can even purchase a light box therapy device attached to a visor, which would allow you to receive light therapy while moving about. Although some people have experienced relief with the visors, evidence of the visors' effectiveness is lacking.

Convenience

Some light boxes are bigger than others, which can make them less portable. Find one that you can move easily and that fits the desired location in your home or office.