Seasonal Affective Disorder | Treatment

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Is there a treatment for SAD?

SAD can be treated in a number of ways, including light therapy, medicine, or behavior therapy. Your doctor may want to combine therapies if using one does not work for you. 

If you have winter-onset SAD and your doctor suggests you try light therapy, you may use a specially made light box, or a light visor that you wear on your head like a cap. You will sit in front of the light box or wear the light visor for a certain length of time each day. Generally, light therapy takes about 30 minutes each day throughout the fall and winter, when you're most likely to be depressed. Another kind of light therapy involves a “dawn simulator” which is a light that is activated by a timer. It is set up in your bedroom to mimic a natural sunrise. The light turns on early in the morning and gradually increases in brightness and allows your body to wake up naturally, without using an alarm. If light therapy helps, you'll continue it until enough sunlight is available, typically in the springtime. Stopping light therapy too soon can result in a return of symptoms.

When used properly, light therapy seems to have very few side effects. However, some side effects include eyestrain, headache, fatigue, irritability and inability to sleep (if light therapy is used too late in the day). Light therapy should be used carefully in people who have manic depressive disorders, skin that is sensitive to sunlight and/or medical conditions that make their eyes vulnerable to sunlight damage.

Tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. The light sources in tanning beds are high in ultraviolet (UV) rays, which harm both your eyes and your skin.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 09/12
Created: 09/00

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

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