Vitiligo is a dermatological condition which causes the skin to lose its natural colour and as a result, uneven white patches appear on the body. It is not medically dangerous or life threatening.Also it is not contagious and affects about 1% of people in the world.Apart from skin,vitiligo may cause depigmentation in the hair on the scalp, mouth,eyelashes or eyebrows.It is not a form of skin cancer and in fact, most of the people with vitiligo are every bit as healthy as a normal person.
Vitiligo is due to the melanocytes of skin being destroyed. Melanocytes are the cells within skin that produce melanin,which gives the pigment to the skin.Melanin also protect the skin from sun’s UV rays.The destruction of melanocytes is thought to due to an autoimmune problem where the immune system attacks healthy tissues.
People with an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s disease,Addison disease,pernicious anemia,diabetes or alopecia areata, are at an increased risk of developing vitiligo. Vitiligo is also seen to run in families.
Although vilitigo affects any race equally,but it tends to be more more noticeable in darker skinned people due to the contrast.
Types of Vitiligo
There are three types of vitiligo, depending on the extent and location on the body:
- Focal vitiligo: A person has a few vitiligo spots in a single area.
- Generalized vitiligo: This is the most common type.In this type,the person affected has patches all over the body in a symmetrical pattern on right and left sides
- Segmental vitiligo: This type of vitiligo causes patches only one part/side of the body.This is the least common among the three.It usually starts at a younger age,progresses for about 2 years and then stop.
Vitiligo can happen anywhere on the body, but it’s more likely to develop in some areas:
- skin that’s exposed to the sun, such as the face or hands
- skin that has folds, such as the elbows, knees, or groin
- skin around the eyes, nostrils, belly button, and genital areas
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms usually appear as depigmented areas where lot of sun exposure is received such as face ,arms and hands but may also appear in the groin area, in the armpits, and around the belly button.
Some signs of vitiligo include
- Premature graying of hair
- Eyelashes or eyebrows losing color and turning white
- Change of color in the retina of the eye
- Color loss in the nose and mouth
- Photo sensitiveness on the affected parts.
Vitiligo may also lead to inflammation in the iris or hearing loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Mostly,dermatologists identify the condition visually.Some dermatologists request for further testing like a skin biopsy,which will show whether melanocytes are present in the skin. He may also test for a blood test to see if you have another autoimmune disease.
- Topical medicine applied to the skin:Corticosteroid creams, when applied to white patches very early in the disease may help to bring some color back to the skin by decreasing the inflammation that leads the skin to have fewer pigment cells
- Light treatment:Uses light to restore lost color to the skin
- Photochemotherapy also known as PUVA light therapy:Uses a medicine called psoralen and UVA light to restore skin color.
- Narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy. This treatment is more widely used than PUVA. It’s similar, except that the ultraviolet light used is UVB instead of UVA. UVB treatment doesn’t require psoralen.
- Surgery:Different surgical procedures are available. Most involve removing skin with your natural color or skin cells and placing these where you need color.
- Unconventional treatment:Some vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes have been reported to restore skin color in people who have vitiligo.
- Depigmentation:This treatment removes the remaining pigment from the skin.Very few patients opt for this treatment.Removing the rest of the pigment leaves a person with completely white skin.
Vitiligo is more than a cosmetic condition and needs attention. Vitiligo can greatly impact the self esteem of affected person.Combined medical and mental health treatment can elevate the quality of affected individual.
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