Lasers the Weapon of Choice in Fight Against Chronic Skin Diseases

Christopher Byrne, MPAS, RPA-C

For some individuals, management and remission of their skin disease may require a combination of therapies, including phototherapy, oral and topical treatments, biological agents, surgical procedures — even lifestyle changes.

“Let there be light!” The phrase has special meaning for dermatologists who are using technology that converts ultraviolet light into effective treatments for stubborn, chronic skin disorders, including psoriasis and vitiligo, said Christopher Byrne, RPA-C, certified physician assistant at Advanced Dermatology, P.C.

Light therapy for skin disorders is not new. For example, ancient Egyptians combined heliotherapy (sunlight) with ingested extracts from a weed that grew in the Nile Delta to treat vitiligo, which causes splotchy white patches – patches of depigmentation — to appear on the skin and can turn hair prematurely gray.

More recently, studies have confirmed the effectiveness of phototherapy in controlling and minimizing outbreaks of psoriasis and vitiligo – in particular, the use of excimer lasers, which send a narrow, concentrated band of light to disease-affected areas of the skin, Byrne said.

Although symptoms are different, both psoriasis and vitiligo are considered autoimmune diseases, with no known cure. They interrupt the body’s acquired immune system by causing antibodies and immune cells to attack, or interfere with, healthy tissue. In psoriasis, the autoimmune reaction triggers an overproduction of T-cells, resulting in development of plaques on the skin. T-cells are the body’s defense again invaders like bacteria and viruses. Vitiligo creates white skin patches by destroying the body’s melanocytes or pigment cells. Neither disease is life-threatening.

The International Federation of Psoriasis Associations reports that about 3 percent of the world’s population have some form of psoriasis. In the United States, approximately 150,000 new psoriasis cases are diagnosed every year. Even though vitiligo is listed as a “rare disease,” it affects about two million or more people in this country.

With an excimer laser, such as the hand-held Xtrac, dermatologists can break up the cells in the psoriasis plaques or…

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