- 28 Mar, 2017
- Skin disorder Solutions
Vitiligo is a condition in which your skin loses melanin, the pigment that determines the color of your skin, hair and eyes. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or no longer form melanin causing slowly enlarging white patches of irregular shapes to appear on your skin.
It affects both sexes and all races, but is often more noticeable and more disfiguring in people with darker skin. Vitiligo usually starts as small areas of pigment loss that spread and become larger with time. These changes in your skin can result in stress and worries about your appearance.
The main sign of vitiligo is pigment loss that produces milky-white patches (depigmentation) on your skin. Other less common signs may include:
• Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard
Although any part of your body may be affected by vitiligo, depigmentation usually develops first on sun-exposed areas of your skin, such as your hands, feet, arms, face and lips. Although it can start at any age, vitiligo often first appears between the ages of 20 and 30.
Vitiligo generally appears in one of three patterns:
• Focal. Depigmentation is limited to one or a few areas of the body.
• Segmental. Loss of skin color occurs on only one side of the body.
• Generalized. Pigment loss is widespread across many parts the body.
The natural course of vitiligo is difficult to predict. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In other cases, pigment loss can involve most of the surface of your skin.
Vitiligo occurs when melanin — the dark pigment in the epidermis that gives your skin its normal color — is destroyed or not produced. The involved patch of skin then becomes white. Why this occurs is unknown.
Doctors and scientists have theories as to what causes vitiligo. It may be due to an immune system disorder. Heredity may be a factor because there's an increased incidence of vitiligo in some families. Some people have reported a single event, such as sunburn or emotional distress, that triggered the condition. However, none of these theories has been proved as a definite cause of vitiligo.
When to seek medical advice
See your doctor if areas of your skin, hair or eyes lose coloring. Although there's no cure for vitiligo, treatments exist that may help to stop or slow the process of depigmentation and attempt to return some color to your skin.
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects you have vitiligo, he or she will ask about your medical history. Important factors in your medical history include:
• A family history of vitiligo
• A rash, sunburn or other skin trauma at the site of vitiligo within two to three months of the start of pigment loss
• Premature graying of the hair (before age 35)
• Stress or physical illness
In addition, your doctor needs to know whether you or anyone in your family has had an autoimmune disease and will ask if your skin is sensitive to the sun. He or she will examine you to rule out other medical problems or skin conditions, such as dermatitis or psoriasis.
Your doctor may take a small sample (biopsy) of your affected skin. He or she may take a blood sample to check your blood cell count and thyroid function. In some cases, your doctor may recommend an eye examination to check for inflammation in your eye (uveitis). A blood test to look for the presence of anti-nuclear antibodies (a type of autoantibody) also may be done to determine if you have an autoimmune disease.
In some cases, medical treatment for vitiligo may not be necessary. Self-care steps, such as using sunscreen and applying cosmetic camouflage cream, may improve the appearance of your skin. For fair-skinned individuals, avoiding tanning can make the areas almost unnoticeable.
Depending on the number, size and location of the white patches, you may decide to seek medical treatment. Medical treatments for vitiligo aim to even out skin tone, either by restoring color (pigment) or destroying the remaining color.
Depending on the type of therapy, treatment for vitiligo may take from six to 18 months. Medical treatment choices are based on the number of white patches you have and how widespread they are. Each person responds differently to treatment, and a particular therapy may not work for you.