Are you worrying about what adverse effects may accompany the beneficial effects of bright light therapy of depression, insomnia or other mental health problems? The following paragraphs are here to comfort you: you don’t need to expect anything bad.
Clinical studies: Fake Side-Effects Production, Ltd.
Many research studies report side effects of various treatments that in fact do not exist. The seeming contradiction is caused by the too strict criteria. If you are testing a treatment, you need to report every complaint of the people you treat. Has someone caught a cold when skiing or gotten sick after eating bad food? Since researchers are required to report all headaches, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting as possible adverse side effects, the results are negatively skewed.
When you are testing tens or hundreds of people over weeks or months, someone is bound to get sick. Plus, people diagnosed with depression, insomnia, or other mental struggles tend to suffer with headaches, exhaustion, irritability, and more. Therefore, single studies do point to some possible adverse effects – which are, however, most likely a matter of normal life.
When researchers applied bright light or placebo on hundreds of students, they did not find a single difference in side effects. Participants in both groups were occasionally drowsy or unwell, but no more or less than normal. In the end, not a single difference in possible adverse effects was reported between the groups, as you may see on the final chart.
It is illogical to presume that when no adverse effects are found in young healthy students, we should expect no issues in elderly patients as well. However, no adverse effects were unveiled after decades of research and clinical use, except for speculations regarding rare headaches or eye itching which might or might not be related to the treatment. Therefore, phototherapy is especially recommended to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding or when further medication is not optimal due to already prescribed pharmacological agents.
But how about your eyes?
Since the advent of phototherapy, the research community was concerned whether there may be some adverse effect on the eyes. In the 1990’s they conducted a large study scrutinizing the eyes of fifty people right after a phototherapy session as well as patients after years of using bright light lamps every morning. Result? Absolutely no effect on the eyes. And some participants were exposed to the light for over a thousand hours!
The only possible problem may be related to bipolar disorder. Some studies indicated an increased risk of switching from depression to mania. However, most other studies claim bright light therapy is safe in bipolar as well, which you can find in our article on this disorder.
Summary: no adverse effects of phototherapy at all
Although no side effects were found, precaution should be taken in case of ophthalmologic problems, dermatologic disorders accompanied with skin sensitivity to light, or any other condition that requires you to avoid direct sunshine. In such a case, consult your GP prior to starting bright light therapy.
PS: A point for you for opening this article! Considering side effects are a crucial part of any treatment, if everyone would take as much care as you do, there would be significantly less suffering from side-effect related problems!