For People with Skin Problems, Phototherapy Has Made a Difference

By Tim Fenster

Physician Ilene Rothman, chief of pediatric dermatology at WCHOB.
Physician Ilene Rothman, chief of pediatric dermatology at WCHOB.

In an effort to provide expanded and more convenient treatment for children suffering from skin disorders, the department of pediatric dermatology at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo is significantly extending its hours for phototherapy treatment.

Phototherapy is a safe and effective ultraviolet light therapy that is used to reduce the inflammation caused by skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo, among others.

It is especially helpful for those with severe skin disorders that require stronger therapy treatments than creams and ointments, and is safer than strong systemic medications.

“It’s a great treatment for people who can’t control their skin disorders with creams alone,” said physician Ilene Rothman, chief of pediatric dermatology at WCHOB.

However, in order to be effective, the treatments must be administered two to three times a week over a period of three months to one year, though some conditions can be treated much faster.

The duration of the treatment has presented a barrier to some families who are working or in school when the therapies are available.

Rothman said their hope is that by expanding treatment hours, they will be able to reach more children, and eventually, adults as well.

“The problem with phototherapy is people have to come in for treatments regularly,” Rothman said. “It’s an inconvenience for people who can’t come in during school or during the day.”

Rothman added that the treatment itself is fast and pain-free. Patients enter a booth with banks of ultraviolet lights on the walls, and remain there for no more than a few minutes, sometimes less than one.

The treatment utilizes narrow-band ultraviolet B, which is considered the safest and more effective form of ultraviolet treatment.

“We use only the part of the light spectrum that is effective for treating skin, and filter out the parts that burn the skin,” Rothman said. “You can get a little redness, but no direct links to skin cancer have been found from narrow-band ultraviolet B.”

Rothman added that narrow-band ultraviolet is far safer than the lights that are typically used in tanning beds, which of course are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

“That’s why we advocate that people don’t go to tanning beds for skin disorders,” she said.

For patients like Erik Betancourt, Jr., 8, phototherapy has made all the difference. Erik was born with atopic eczema, and was diagnosed with the condition at 6 months old. His mother, Karlisha, said he suffered for years from near constant inflamed and itchy skin.

Erik was entered into WCHOB’s phototherapy program at the beginning of last year, and soon saw positive results.

“He doesn’t scratch anymore. It’s made a big difference,” she said.

Karlisha added that WCHOB has been flexible, made her son comfortable during treatments and have been with them ever since his birth.

“This has been a process for us, and they’ve been with us every step of the way,” she said.

WCHOB’s phototherapy program will be able to accept more adult patients in January 2017, after the program is relocated to the Conventus Medical Office Building near the corner of Main and High streets in Buffalo.