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Alopecia Areata: Psoralen With Ultraviolet A Light (PUVA) Therapy

Topic Overview

PUVA therapy combines a medicine (called a psoralen) and treatment with ultraviolet A (UVA) light. The psoralen increases the skin's sensitivity to UV light, including sunlight. The psoralen is taken either as a pill or by putting it on the skin directly. Then the skin is exposed to UVA. Treatments are done regularly for 4 to 6 months.

PUVA is used when alopecia areata affects most of the scalp or areas of skin other than the scalp. It may also be used when other treatments cannot be used or have not worked.

Short-term side effects when using PUVA to treat psoriasis include:

  • Skin redness, headache, itching.
  • Burns.
  • Nausea from the medicine.

Psoralens applied to the skin (topical) may help you avoid some side effects of PUVA. Topical psoralens may be used for alopecia areata that affects smaller areas of the skin. They may be especially helpful when psoralens taken by mouth (oral) cause severe nausea.

Topical psoralens, such as those given in bath water, are as effective as oral psoralens. But if light treatments are given in a doctor's office, they may be less convenient.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last Revised May 29, 2012

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