Vitiligo is a type of rare skin disorder in which white patches of skin appear in different parts of the body. The discoloured skin usually spreads with time and can even affect the mucous membranes, i.e. tissues of the eye, hair and the insides of the mouth.
Generally, the colour of the skin and hair is determined by the presence and production of a pigment called melanin. In the case of vitiligo, the cells producing melanin, i.e. the melanocytes either die or stop functioning altogether. It can affect people bearing any skin colour but is usually diagnosed in the ones having a darker skin tone. Although it is not life-threatening or contagious and is usually treatable, it can be extremely stressful and diminish one’s self-confidence. Also Read: Psoriasis: Is It Contagious?
It usually occurs when the melanocytes synthesizing melanin die or stop producing the pigment. It is still unknown as to why the melanocytes die or stop functioning, but it might be related to the following:
Age: It is commonly diagnosed in people in their twenties
Skin Colour: Though seen in all types of skin colour, commonly noticeable in people with darker skin tone.
Hereditary: Risk increases if one or more family members had this skin disorder.
Autoimmune disorders: The presence of autoimmune diseases like hyperthyroidism aggravates the risk of getting vitiligo.
Trigger Event: In rare cases, a sudden event like stress, severe sunburn, skin trauma, or chemical contact may lead to the presence of patchy white skin.
Types Of Vitiligo
Depending upon the extent of spread and the part it affects, vitiligo can be of the following types:
Type of vitiligo where the white patchy skin occurs in almost 80% of the body.
A common type where skin discolouration or macules appear randomly in different parts of the body.
Vitiligo usually affects the mucous membranes, i.e. nose, ears, eyes and mouth, and/or the genitals.
A rare type of vitiligo where the macules occur in a small area and do not spread for 1-2 years in a pattern.
Here the discolouration is limited to one side of the body or in a certain area like the face or hands.
In this type, the pattern of vitiligo happens in the form of a white or colourless centre, encircled by an area of lighter pigmentation which is then followed by the normally coloured skin. Also Read: Hyperpigmentation Is Hormonal, Learn About Remedies
The common symptom of vitiligo is patchy white skin which can affect any part of the body including eyes, nostrils, the area around the mouth, armpits, genitals, navel, and rectal areas. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Premature greying or whitening of the hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or beard
- Loss of colour in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose (i.e. the mucous membranes)
Although it is not contagious, untreated spreading vitiligo can increase certain complications in the affected people including:
- Eye Problems
- Loss Of Hearing
- Psychological distress
Once you notice any small white patches on the skin, it is strictly suggested to consult a doctor or skin specialist at once. The doctor usually does a thorough physical examination, acknowledges the patient’s family and past medical history followed by a couple of tests which include:
- A complete eye analysis
- Blood Tests consisting of Complete Blood Count Test and Antinuclear Antibody Test
The treatment options usually depend on the age of the patient and the extent of the spread of the disease. These treatments include surgical procedures, medical remedies, and other alternative treatments.
- Consumption of oral medicines or application of topical ointments and creams.
- A treatment in which the affected skin is subjected to medicine plus ultraviolet A (UVA) light (PUVA)
- Removing the color from other areas of the skin so they match the white patches.
- Covering up the affected skin by doing skin grafts from a person's tissues.
- Tattooing small areas of skin.
- Application of sunscreen to minimize sun damage
- Use of cosmetics, such as makeup or dye, to cover the white patches
- Counselling and supportive care.