Phototherapy in the elderly

Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015 Aug;40(6):605-10. doi: 10.1111/ced.12626. Epub 2015 Mar 21.


Background: Elderly patients present with a unique spectrum of dermatoses that pose particular management opportunities and challenges, which will be increasingly encountered in dermatological practice. The skin of elderly patients differs from that of younger patients not only in appearance but also in structure, physiology and response to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, little is known about the safety and efficacy of phototherapy in elderly patients and how phototherapy is currently being utilized to treat them.

Aim: To investigate the safety, efficacy and utilization of phototherapy in elderly patients.

Methods: In January 2014, we analysed all patients recently referred for, currently receiving or recently having completed a course of phototherapy at a university teaching hospital in England (UK).

Results: In total, 249 patients were identified; 37 (15%) were over the age of 65 years (the WHO definition of an elderly or older person). The dermatoses being treated were psoriasis (51%), eczema (11%), nodular prurigo (11%), pruritus (11%), Grover disease (5%) and others (11%). One patient with dementia was deemed not safe to embark on phototherapy, and five patients were yet to start. The remaining 31 elderly patients received 739 individual phototherapy treatments: 88% narrowband (NB)-UVB and 12% systemic, bath and hand/foot psoralen UVA (PUVA). The acute adverse event (AE) rate was 1.89%, all occurring in those receiving NB-UVB. No severe acute AEs occurred. Of those who completed their course of phototherapy, 80% achieved a clear/near clear or moderate response, while just two patients (8%) had minimal response and two (8%) had worsening of the disease during treatment. Of those receiving NB-UVB for psoriasis, 91% achieved a clear or near-clear response.

Conclusions: In this small survey, the first of its kind to focus on elderly patients, phototherapy appears to be well-tolerated, safe and efficacious in the short term. Further thought and investigation should be given to delivering phototherapy to an ageing population.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dermatologic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Eczema / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Ficusin / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photochemotherapy / methods*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / administration & dosage
  • Skin Diseases / therapy*
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / adverse effects
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / methods*
  • United Kingdom


  • Dermatologic Agents
  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Ficusin