Photodynamic Therapy (PDT or Blue Light Therapy)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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How is recovery after photodynamic therapy (PDT)?

Recovery is usually fairly easy and uneventful. Many patients have mild dryness and a faint to mild sunburn of the treated area. A small percent of patients may have moderate or marked discomfort and a harder recovery because of more skin dryness, redness, or burning.

Some of these patients have had inadvertent sun exposure even as short as a minute or two during their immediate post-treatment time, causing a more severe reaction.

You will want to plan to stay indoors and avoid any sunlight for 24-48 hours as directed by your physician. Overall, you may be able to resume all normal indoor activities the first day.

Most patients are able to their normal activities 24-48 hours after photodynamic therapy. Avoiding direct sunlight for the first one to two days in crucial to avoiding getting an exuberant (red) response. Your physician will need to let you know what activity precautions are required based on the area and size of your procedure.

Is there pain after PDT?

Typically, there is little pain with PDT. No two individuals are exactly the same, and individual reactions and tolerance to discomfort levels vary. Most patients report mild skin irritation including minimal to mild dryness and tight feeling of their skin after PDT. This discomfort is usually improved with frequent application of bland topical emollients or plain Vaseline.

A small number of patients may actually complain that they felt nothing and didn't have any pain or peeling. Less commonly, a small percentage of patients for various reasons may have significant pain, a very exaggerated sunburn response, moderate overall discomfort, and pain from the tightness and warmth of the skin.

If there is pain, many patients find that they prefer to take something for pain at the first hint of discomfort instead of waiting until the pain builds up to an unbearable level. If you have mild or moderate pain, your doctor may advise you to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or another pain reliever. Rarely, prescription pain medications may be required for severe pain.

Your physician will let you know what pain medications are recommended for your specific condition.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016

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