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  • Writer's pictureCure Vitiligo

Unspoken Side Effects of Vitiligo: What They Are and How They Occur

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

By: Cure Vitiligo,

Vitiligo is a skin condition in which patches of skin loses their color. Because this affects a the way a person looks, many people consider vitiligo a “cosmetic problem.” Cosmetic means the problem only affects a person's appearance.

But that is far from the truth. Vitiligo is a medical condition. It occurs when white blood cells attacks melanocytes, the cells that give our skin, hair, and other areas of the body color.

These cells live in the skin, hair, lips, mouth (inside of), nostrils, genitals, rectum, eyes, and inner ear. The loss of melanocytes results in patches of white or widespread skin pigmentation loss. The lack of pigment can also appear in hair, eyelashes, or eyebrows.

Many common side effects include skin sensitivity and sunburns. But what some may not know is that there are many unspoken side effects. These include hearing loss, vision problems, and anxiety and depression.


Hearing Loss

The inner ear contains melanocytes — the cells that give our skin and other parts of the body color. If the body attacks these cells in the ear, hearing loss can occur. It’s estimated that between 12% and 38% of people with vitiligo have some hearing loss. Most people are unaware that they have hearing loss. Seeing a doctor who knows about vitiligo can help find hearing loss.


Vision Problems

“Our eyes also have a large number of pigmented cells, primarily in the iris and retina, and thus eyes can be another target in the inflammatory process that causes vitiligo,” Dr. Starr explained.

The most common eye effect, seen in about 30 to 40 percent of patients, is loss of pigment in the cell layer just outside the retina, called the retinal pigment epithelium, and the attached layer, called the choroid, where blood vessels nourish the retina. Usually, however, this does not have a significant effect on vision.

Inflammation within the eye, called uveitis, can occur in about 5 percent of patients with vitiligo, Dr. Starr said, possibly causing redness, pain, sensitivity to light and in some cases reduced vision.


Anxiety and Depression

Researchers have found that many people who have vitiligo often feel anxious and embarrassed around others. It’s easy to understand why. People often stare and make rude remarks. Some people are obviously frightened. Facing this day in and day out can take a toll on a person’s self-image. Low self-esteem can develop, which can lead to depression.

People with darker skin are more likely to experience difficulties, because the contrast is greater. In India, vitiligo is known as “white leprosy.”

Increasing awareness about vitiligo, for example, by talking to friends about it, can help people with the condition to overcome these difficulties. Connecting with others who have vitiligo may also help.

If you feel anxious or depressed, a dermatologist may be able to refer you to someone who can help.

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