European Survey Finds Wide Variations in the Use of Phototherapy for Atopic Eczema

Liam Davenport

July 08, 2022

GLASGOW, Scotland — There are wide variations across Europe in how the different forms of phototherapy are used in the treatment of atopic eczema for both adults and children, reveals a region-wide survey, which points to the need for management guidelines.

Over 140 phototherapy practitioners from 27 European countries responded to the survey. Of the practitioners surveyed, 96% used narrow-band ultraviolet B (NB-UVB), and about 50% prescribed psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) for adults. Fewer than 10% did so for children.

There was considerable variation in prescribing practices, "especially when it comes to dosing and treatment duration," said study presenter Mia Steyn, MD, dermatology registrar, St. John's Institute of Dermatology, Guy's and St. Thomas's Hospital, London, UK.

These results, she said, demonstrate that "an optimal treatment modality either is not known or agreed upon" and that studies are required to determine treatment efficacy, cost, and safety "in a range of skin types."

Steyn said that what is needed first is a set of consensus treatment guidelines, "hopefully leading to a randomized controlled trial" that would compare the various treatment options.

The research was presented at the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) 2022 Annual Meeting on July 7.

Session co-chair Adam Fityan, MD, a consultant dermatologist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK, commented that the study was "fascinating" and "really helpful."

Fityan, who was not involved with the survey, told Medscape Medical News, "Clearly, what we've seen is that there is a huge variation in the way everyone uses the different modalities of phototherapy.

"Having that sort of knowledge will hopefully help us to think a bit more clearly about the regimens and protocols that we use and to maybe find the evidence that everyone needs to have the most effective protocol."

The data from the study are also useful on an individual level, Fityan continued, as "you have no idea what anyone is doing" and whether "you are an outlier."

Steyn said that phototherapy is commonly used for the treatment of atopic eczema, but the evidence for its efficacy, its impact on quality on life, its cost-effectiveness, and short- and long-term safety is "weak," particularly in relation to real-life use.

Electronic Survey

In lieu of a well-designed randomized controlled trial to answer these questions, the researchers set up a task force to assess how phototherapy is currently being used to treat atopic eczema across the UK and Europe so as to guide further research.

An electronic survey was devised, and 144 members of phototherapy groups from 27 European countries submitted their responses during 2020. Most responses came from the Netherlands (20), Italy (16), the United Kingdom (14), France (11), and Germany (10).

The results showed that NB-UVB was the most widely used modality of phototherapy, chosen by 96% of respondents. In addition, 17% of respondents said they also prescribed home-based NB-UVB, which was available in eight of the 27 countries.

When asked how they used NB-UVB, the majority (68%) of respondents said they had an age cutoff for use in children, which was set at an average age of 9 years and older, although the range was age 2 years to 16 years.

NBUVB was used as a second-line therapy instead of systemic treatments in up to 93% of adults and in 69% of children. It was used concomitantly with systemic treatment in up to 58% of adults and 11% of children, according to the survey responses.

For about 70% of respondents, the use of NB-UVB was determined by assessing the Fitzpatrick skin type, although almost 40% relied on clinical experience.

Frequency of Treatment

NB-UVB was prescribed three times a week by 59% of respondents; 31% of respondents prescribed it twice a week; 7%, five times per week; and 2%, four times a week. The typical number of treatments was 21–30 for 53% of respondents, 0–20 treatments for 24%, and 31–40 treatments for 20%.

The dose was typically increased in 10% increments, although there were wide variations in how the treatment was stepped up. Dose was increased after each treatment by almost 50% of respondents, after every two treatments by almost 25%, and after every three treatments by approximately 15%.

For the majority (53%) of respondents, response to NBUVB was assessed after 7–15 treatments, while 43% waited until after 16–30 treatments. Success was defined as a 75% reduction in eczema from baseline by 56% of respondents, while 54% looked to patient satisfaction, and 47% relied on quality of life to determine success of treatment.

Maintenance NB-UVB was never used by 54% of respondents, but 44% said they used it occasionally, and 83% said they did not follow a weaning schedule at the end of treatment.

The most commonly reported adverse effects of NB-UVB were significant erythema, hyperpigmentation, and eczema flare, while the most commonly cited absolute contraindications included a history of melanoma, a history of squamous cell carcinoma, the use of photosensitizing medications, and claustrophobia.

Use of PUVA, UVA1

The next most commonly used phototherapy for atopic eczema was PUVA. Although it was available to 83% of respondents, only 52% of respondents had personally prescribed the treatment for adults, and only 7% prescribed it for children.

Of the respondents, 71% said they would switch from NB-UVB to PUVA if desired treatment outcomes were not achieved with the former, and 44% said they would "sometimes consider" PUVA as second-line therapy instead of systemic treatments. Only 13% said they would use it concomitantly with systemic treatment.

Ultraviolet A1 (UVA1) phototherapy was not widely available, with 66% of respondents declaring that they did not have access to this option, and just 29% saying they prescribed it.

But when it was used, UVA1 was cited as being used often in adults by 24% of respondents, while 33% used it was used sometimes, and 43% said it was used rarely. It was used for children by 26% of respondents. In addition, 29% said they favored using UVA1 for chronic atopic eczema, and 33% favored using it for acute eczema, while 38% had no preference over whether to use it for chronic vs acute atopic eczema.

Similarly to NB-UVB, there were wide variations in the use of PUVA and UVA1 by respondents in terms of dosing schedules, duration of treatment, and how response to treatment was measured.

No funding for the study has been reported. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) 2022 Annual Meeting: Abstract PD07. Presented July 7, 2022.

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