Seasonal affective disorder treatment: Choosing a light box

Light therapy boxes can offer an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Features such as light intensity, safety, cost and style are important considerations.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically occurs each year during fall and winter. Light therapy boxes can offer effective treatment for SAD. Light box therapy may be effective on its own. Or, light therapy may be more effective when it's combined with another SAD treatment, such as an antidepressant medication or psychological counseling (psychotherapy).

Light therapy boxes for SAD treatment are also known as light boxes, bright light therapy boxes and phototherapy boxes.

All light boxes for SAD treatment are designed do the same thing, but one may work better for you than another. Be sure to consult with your doctor so that you get a light therapy box that best suits your needs.

Understanding a light box

A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. Most people use light boxes for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning.

You can buy a light box over the counter, or your doctor may recommend a specific light box. Most health insurance plans do not cover the cost.

Light boxes, available from stores and Internet retailers, come in different shapes and sizes and have varied features. They also produce different types and intensities of light. Light boxes are designed to be safe and effective, but they aren't approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it's important to understand your options.

Mar. 09, 2013 See more In-depth