How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treated?

Speak to your primary care doctor about medication options. There are multiple mild antidepressants with minimal side effects out there that can really help to offset the effects of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For the most part, they are very well tolerated, and do a good job of re-balancing the neurotransmitters in your brain. The downside is they take about a month to take effect.

For those of you who prefer a less pharmaceutical route to seasonal bliss, a light box might be a good option. Your doctor should be able to recommend a suitable light box for you after diagnosis. These contraptions emit non-harmful bright light in wavelengths similar to the sun. They generally cost $80-$250. You spend 10-30 minutes a day in front of them.

Finally, I would recommend changing your coffee to something like yerba mate. It’s a first cousin to tea that is widely consumed in South America. It provides a smoother lift in energy that lasts better through the bleak afternoons. It can be found in health food stores.
Treatment options for SAD include light therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and pharmacotherapy. Each option has been proved beneficial in treating SAD, but no large studies have found any treatment to be superior.
Dr. Robin Miller, MD
Internal Medicine

The usual treatment for seasonal affective disorder or SAD is light therapy. There are special fluorescent lights that are sold for this purpose. Generally patients are exposed to the light for a short period of time in the morning and evening. Taking a vacation in the winter to a warm climate can also help.

Some patients may require selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications such as Paxil or Prozac. Often times they only need to be taken starting in the early fall and until the spring.

Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine

Acupuncture can be used to treat seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Acupuncture releases serotonin and noradrenaline-norepinephrine, which are common stimulants used in the treatment of SAD. Recent studies indicate that electro-acupuncture may be a viable alternative to antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Furthermore, acupuncture can regulate the hypothalamus in the brain which controls circadian rhythms and hunger.

In addition to antidepressants, other Western Medicine treatment for SAD include light therapy (phototherapy) and psychotherapy.

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) include phototherapy or bright light therapy which has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of Melatonin. Antidepressants can be helpful treatments, as well. For mild Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or sitting in a sunlit room indoors are helpful. Studies have shown that an hour’s walk in sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light. Daily exercise has been shown to be helpful, particularly when done outdoors. Keeping a healthy sleeping and eating pattern is also recommended.

Treatments for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) include phototherapy and antidepressant medication. Sufferers may notice a decrease in their symptoms by adopting healthy eating habits and adhering to a regular sleep schedule. Exercising outside may prove especially helpful for two reasons -- release of endorphins and increased exposure to sunlight.

Phototherapy involves exposure to full spectrum lighting for one to two hours per day, usually in the morning. Light boxes and visors provide this kind of exposure. Alternatively, dawn simulators initially provide low levels of light and increase the levels throughout the morning -- mimicking light exposure experienced in the early morning hours as the sun rises. Therapeutic levels of light are measured in a unit of illumination termed, the lux. The minimum effective dose for treating SAD is around 2,500 lux although some studies suggest certain patients may achieve beneficial effects from as little as 100 lux. Antidepressant medications such as sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa) and fluoxetine (Prozac) may be effective in alleviating the symptoms of SAD and are often times used in conjunction with light therapy.

Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine
You can treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with light therapy, antidepressant medications, and vitamin D replacement (if low). All have shown effectiveness in improving symptoms.

There are several treatment options that may help reduce your symptoms. Doctors may prescribe medications, most commonly antidepressants like bupropion, paroxetine, sertaline, fluoxetine and venlafaxine, which work to block the chemical imbalances that cause the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. Another treatment option may be psychotherapy, which may help to keep your mood positive and your behaviors from making you feel worse. Therapy will also teach you ways to cope with symptoms in a healthy manner. Light therapy, since most cases of SAD can be attributed to a lack of sunlight, appears to be beneficial and has few side effects. While its merits are still under review, a light therapy box that mimics sunlight seems to be able to cause a change in brain chemicals and mood.

Specific treatment for SAD will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
The treatments for "winter depression" and "summer depression" often differ, and may include any, or a combination, of the following:
- light therapy
- antidepressant medications
- psychotherapy

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.