What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo, sometimes known as 'leucoderma,' is a long-term skin condition in which a portion of the skin loses its color (pigmentation), leaving it white or pink in appearance.
Vitiligo may appear everywhere on the body, although it's more likely to present in the areas listed below:
Eyes, nose, belly button, elbows, and genital areas
Sometimes within the mouth
Folded areas of the body, such as the knees and elbows
Because pigment cells supply hair and skin color, some people with vitiligo may notice early greying of their hair or a loss of color on their lips.
There are no restrictions on who may develop the disease. Therefore, it can affect anyone, whatever their skin color or ethnic origin, but will be more visually prominent in those with darker skin. People with lighter skin may be unaware that their skin is not producing pigment.
Although vitiligo may strike at any age, the majority of people who acquire the condition do so before they reach the age of 40.
What causes vitiligo?
The cause of vitiligo is unknown at this time. It's suspected to be related to autoimmune illnesses, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues rather than invading cells like viruses or bacteria. The first signs may appear in an area of the skin that has been severely sunburned.
About 15 to 25% of people with vitiligo also have another autoimmune illness, such as hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, pernicious anemia, or Addison disease.
When it comes to vitiligo, one of the most often asked questions is if it is contagious. The quick answer is no, you can't catch it and you can't pass it on to someone else by touching them.
Do you still have doubts? Well, here are a few more misconceptions that need to be debunked:
There is no relationship between vitiligo and cancer, albinism, or leprosy.
Vitiligo is not a contagious condition.
Vitiligo is not a disease that causes physical harm.
Signs or symptoms
It may start as a small white spot that differs from the normal skin tone, but, as time goes on, this spot will become paler until it turns white. The patches' development is completely unexpected. For some, they can develop and expand slowly over time, while for others it will never progress much further than a spot or two. Although uncommon, the patches might develop quickly in certain circumstances. In some exceptionally rare cases, some people have even experienced ‘spontaneous re-pigmentation of the skin.
Vitiligo isn't associated with having many symptoms. Some people have reported itching as a consequence of skin inflammation, which is accompanied by a slight red tone, as well as pain and dryness. One thing to keep in mind is that, although vitiligo symptoms manifest physically and aesthetically, they may also have an emotional impact due to the stress that comes with having a chronic illness.
Types of vitiligo
There are three known types of vitiligo; they are dependent on how many patches someone has and where they might present on the body:
Focal vitiligo: Found in patients with a few vitiligo spots in a single area.
Segmental vitiligo: The most unusual form of vitiligo where patches are generally found on one side of the body and nowhere else.
Generalized vitiligo (aka non-segmental vitiligo): Found in patients with many patches all over the body. They tend to affect the right and left sides of the body in a symmetrical pattern, almost like a mirror image. This is the most common type of vitiligo and is also known as ‘universal’ or ‘complete’ vitiligo.
Is vitiligo hereditary?
Vitiligo can run in families, despite the fact that the condition is not necessarily linked to heredity. In fact, over 30% of those who have the condition have a family history of it. As a result, children will not develop vitiligo just because a parent has the condition. They do, however, have a greater risk of contracting the condition.
Is vitiligo linked to other conditions?
It's estimated that 15 to 25% of patients with vitiligo also have at least one additional autoimmune disorder. Most commonly: Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, pernicious anemia, Addison disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis. Many people with vitiligo also find a correlation between eczema and their patches.
Is there a way to prevent vitiligo?
There is no way you can predict where, when, or even if you are going to get vitiligo. And as we don’t know why vitiligo occurs, there is no way it can be prevented. It is thought to be triggered by a combination of genetics and environmental conditions, which can appear at any age. However, it is thought that several factors can contribute to its onset:
Damage to the skin due to critical sunburn or a cut(s).
Heredity – it may run in families.
Hormonal changes in the body, for example, adolescence.
Exposure to some chemicals.
Liver and/or kidney issues.
Products that contain phenol (also known as carbolic acid or phenic acid) can be possible triggers of vitiligo. These products include:
Varnish and lacquer resins
Seeking a diagnosis and what to expect
The best way to know if you have vitiligo is to go and see your doctor. You can even prepare for your visit by doing the following:
Reviewing your family medical history.
Making notes concerning any stressful events that have occurred in your life.
Making a list of chemicals you may have come into contact with.
Considering taking a friend or family member with you for support.
Preparing a list of questions to ask your doctor.
During your visit, your doctor will ask several questions concerning various areas of your life including family history and whether you have had any injuries. If available, your patches will be examined using a ‘Woods Lamp’ (ultraviolet lamp) which will assist in narrowing down and eliminating the possibility of it being another skin condition.
Receiving your diagnosis – What now?
Being diagnosed with vitiligo can be highly emotional and stressful. No doubt you’ll have a million and one questions rushing through your head. The first thing to remember is that you are by no means alone, and there are many groups and information sources out there to help you.
Regarding treatments, there are various methods that may help restore pigmentation, although the outcome may not be permanent or even stop the spread of patches.
You may decide that you don’t want or need to try treatment methods. You can discuss the best options with your doctor or dermatologist.
An alternative method to concealing white patches on your skin is to use camouflage. Skin camouflages are longer-lasting waterproof creams, designed to blend your vitiligo patches to your natural skin tone. Applications to the face can last 12-18 hours and 2-3 days if applied to the body. This may help if the white spots are causing you to feel self-conscious.
Is there a vitiligo cure?
Currently, there is no known cure for vitiligo. Ongoing research seeks to change this in order to provide patients worldwide with more options in how to manage or treat this condition. Cure Vitiligo is partnered with Dr. Harris at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center to aid in raising donations to fund his research for a cure. Want to be a part of the cure? Click here.