Vitiligo

1 What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a disorder that causes the skin to lose its color in patches.

It is not possible to predict the extent and rate of color loss from vitiligo. It can affect any part of the body, hair, mucous membranes in the mouth (inside) and eyes. It occurs when the cells producing melanin die or stop functioning. It may appear more in people with dark skin than light skin.

This condition affects the mental status because of the way their person looks.

Treatment may improve the skin condition but there is no cure.

Vitiligo

2 Symptoms

The main symptom of vitiligo is loss of skin color in patches. Usually, discoloration appears in the areas of skin that is exposed to sun.

Other signs and symptoms include: skin discoloration, premature whitening or graying of the hair, loss of color in the tissue that line the inside the mouth and nose, loss of color in inner layer of eyeball, change in colors in eyeball, discolored patches around armpits or rectum.

Vitiligo appears at any age but mostly at the age of 20.

Depending on the type of vitiligo, it may appear in many parts of the body (generalized vitiligo), only one side of the body (segmental vitiligo) and few areas of the body (focal vitiligo).

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3 Causes

Vitiligo is caused when cells that produce melanin (melanocytes) fails to produce melanin (the pigment that give color to the skin) or dies.

It is still unknown why this happens but some mechanisms have been proposed:

  • autoimmune disorder (immune system attacks the melanocytes),
  • family history,
  • sunburn,
  • stress,
  • exposure to chemicals.

4 Making a Diagnosis

In case of vitiligo, the diagnosis starts with:

  • medical history (to rule out other similar conditions),
  • using special lamp to put ultraviolet light on the skin,
  • taking biopsy (a small part of affected skin),
  • blood tests.

Additionally, a patient may consult an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for eye problems or audiologist (hearing specialist) for ear problems.

5 Treatment

There is no cure for vitiligo, but many treatments are available to even out skin tone. These treatments may have significant adverse effects.

The doctor may ask the patient to improve appearance by self-tanning or by light make-up.

Certain medications can help to improve skin appearance but they have no effect on melanocytes. These medications include:

  • Using creams that control inflammation like corticosteroids.
  • Vitamin D can be used together with corticosteroids and immunosuppressants (if vitiligo is due to autoimmune disorder).
  • Light therapy is used in combination with medications (photo-chemotherapy) to return color to the patches.
  • Laser therapy that uses excimer laser to return color to the patches.
  • Removing the remaining color (depigmentation) may be used if other treatments are not giving adequate results.
  • Surgery can also be an effective treatment and the following procedures may be required:
    • Skin grafting (removes a small section of normal pigmented skin and attaches to the depigmented patches)
    • Blister grafting (creating blisters on the pigmented skin and removes the top of the blister and transplanting it to the discoloured skin)
    • Micropigmentation (using special surgical instrument to implant pigment in to the skin.

6 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Consult with your doctor before using any alternative and homeopathic remedies for vitiligo.

Some studies show that a herb called Ginkgo biloba can help to return the color or decrease the spreading of depigmentation, using folic acid and vitamin B12 may restore the skin.

After the diagnosis of vitiligo, some steps can be taken to improve appearance:

  • protect the skin from sun and artificial sources of UV light (using sunscreen or clothes that shield the skin from sun),
  • conceal affected skin (covering affected skin with cosmetics),
  • not getting a tattoo done since it may cause a new patch with vitiligo.

7 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with vitiligo.

The appearance in vitiligo is devastating and this may cause stress, decreases self-consciousness, sad and ashamed.

This may limit daily activities that require going out into the public.

The following tips may help to cope with vitiligo:

  • make a good connection with a dermatologist,
  • learning about it and getting knowledge as much as possible,
  • communicate about feelings with the doctor,
  • talk with others and confide with loved ones.

8 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with vitiligo.

Risk factors for developing vitiligo include:

  • having autoimmune disorder,
  • undergoing stress,
  • family history,
  • occupations (exposure to toxins).

Complications include:

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