My Phototherapy Experience

Friday, December 08, 2017

Okay now we have that ^^^ out of the way it's time to dive in to my round up of how I got on with phototherapy.

Phototherapy is a course of treatment for skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and atopic dermatitis (of which I had a severe case). It is basically a giant sunbed. Now if you're anything like me that last sentence struck fear in your heart-for years I have tried to convince my friends not to use them for fear of contracting skin cancer, and then one fateful day in April my dermatologist made me sign a waiver that stated "I understand this course of treatment may lead to me contracting skin cancer"!! 

Honestly I was so nervous about this treatment but my skin was so bad I couldn't sleep, I would claw my skin so much every duvet I owned was streaked with blood, I couldn't get my skin wet (I live in Scotland, it rains A LOT), moisturisers exacerbated the condition- there was nothing else for it! I mean seriously I looked like this:

Prior to these pictures I'd had a small bit of relief in the form of Prednisolone Steroid tablets-which were honestly a godsend and really did clear up my skin, while calming the itchy horrible feeling that comes with these conditions. Sadly you can't stay on steroids for prolonged periods because they will do a number on your liver, but if you are suffering and could use some respite I do recommend discussing their suitability with your GP or dermatologist. I loved my steroids but hated what they did to my face...look how puffy!! In fact my whole body seemed to swell, so much so that in the space of a week 1 colleague told me I looked fatter, and another asked if I was pregnant! Truthfully though, despite having deep seeded issues with body image I would have happily stayed on those pills forever.

Alas I was taken off my steroids and my skin quickly flared up again, which is when I begged to be given phototherapy.

Alright so I took a while to get to the details, but here we are with my phototherapy experience:

The Basics:
20 Week course of treatment
2 Sessions a week
Tuesday and Thursday 10:15am (every appointment same time, same days)

The Specifics:
Sessions started at just 17secs and went up every session until I reached 4mins 32secs
You will be completely naked apart from the sexy red eye goggles they give you to protect your eyes.
You MUST stand in the same position every time.

The First Time:
My first session was basically to assess my skin and how it reacts to UVB light. It was also a good opportunity for my nurse to put my mind at ease, and get me acquainted with the machine and the system. If you are nervous, this is the time to ask all your questions! I am VERY claustrophobic (just another wonderful side effect of PTSD) and found myself getting worked up about being closed in a box for any amount of imagine my relief when my nurse pointed out that the box had no roof! It was completely wide open and all I had to do was look up, and if that didn't help then I could push the door open at any time and the treatment would pause.

To assess your skin the nurse uses a UV wand with little bulbs on it, which they press against a clear patch of skin-usually on your back or thigh-for about 30 seconds. It gets warm but not unbearable, and they will mark where the bulbs have been in contact with your skin. You have to leave these marks on until your next session so they can check the reaction.
My nurse tried and tried to find a space on my body that was clear enough for the test, and we were left with my upper arm as a last resort.

As you can see from the 1st and 4th picture above, my skin barely reacted to the bulbs-there are small red dots but they are nothing too noticeable. This told my nurse that my skin was the type that doesn't really burn, or tan, or really do anything at all in the sun which is how she chose how long my first session should be.

I'm not going to lie guys, this gets tedious really quickly! Because I work shifts it really started tiring me out. My sessions where at 10:15am every Tuesday and Thursday which meant the majority of my shifts had to be evening ones (the railway shift system is complicated but yeah couldn't do mornings) for the entire 20 weeks. That amount of late nights really takes its toll on anyone, never mind someone with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia! So I got moody, and everyone on Instagram stories got to bear witness.

I know, I look shite but I was so tired, and the fact that I never spent more than 15 minutes at the actual hospital meant that I didn't feel like it was at all worth it. But then I realised my skin wasn't seeping, or oozing, or bleeding anymore! Sure it was still itchy as all hell but that was because it was super dry. I'll take dry over what it was before, any day!

LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE GUYS!! It was incredible, Of course the change didn't happen overnight, these photos were taken around week 8-9, but it did happen. At this point my skin started to tan (very lightly) and I was buzzing. Apart from the panda eye issue of course.

My skin got better and better until around week 17 where it kind of just stalled and stayed the same. I got 5 extra sessions on the end of my 20 weeks to see if a longer session would make more of a difference, but week 17 onward was pretty much just maintenance. 

I am now finished my phototherapy course of treatment and I'm impressed! I really am. However upon completion my skin didn't stay clear. It took about two weeks and my skin started to become a bit blotchy again, and to this day it is still incredibly itchy. BUT it is so much improved from those first photos that even I was surprised when I saw my before photos again.
Final Thoughts:
Would definitely recommend phototherapy to everyone struggling-if it is suitable for you (discuss with a health professional).
Buy ALL the moisturisers and don't be stingy with them. I'd bathe in moisturiser if I could.
My recommendations are: Aveeno Daily Moisturiser, Aveeno After Shower Mist, Moogoo Nut Free Soothing Cream, Childs Farm Baby Moisturiser, and Oilatum (bath oil). 

Care about your hair? I can not stress how much you're going to want to treat yourself to a deep conditioning treatment during and after phototherapy! The lamps in the booth really dry out your hair so I got one halfway through, and straight after. 

If you are struggling with a skin condition and have been considering phototherapy I hope this post helps you. And I hope you find some relief soon. 

P.S. If you are reading in Scotland you should be able to get Aveeno Moisturising Cream on prescription (I did at first). You probably can in England and Wales too BUT at £8.20 an item you'll probably be better off at Boots-who did 3 for £10 on Aveeno products last month! 

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