About 1% of the total world population has the Vitiligo disease. Earlier this condition used to be a cause of social distress for the person suffering from it, but people worldwide are becoming more aware about the condition. Nowadays, there are models with vitiligo who walk on ramps in fashion shows. But many things are still not clear about this long-lasting condition, such as its exact cause. However, understanding the condition can help people manage it better.
Here, you can learn about different types of vitiligo, some complications related to the condition, and popular treatment options.
What is Vitiligo?
The skin disease vitiligo is a type of chronic autoimmune disorder that leads to a person’s skin or hair to lose pigment or colour in patches all over the body. The patches that loose colour appear to be milky-white in colour.
Melanin is the pigment that gives colour to the skin and hair. People with more melanin in their skin appear darker and vice versa. In vitiligo, people start losing the melanin in their skin. The colourless patches—macules—usually appear as small spots, which spread with time. People can first get macules on their hands and/or face, but they can occur anywhere on the body.
Types of vitiligo
Based on the spread of macules and their appearance, vitiligo has been divided into the following categories:
- Generalised vitiligo
In this, macules can occur on any part of the body.
- Segmental Vitiligo
In this, macules occur only on side of the body or on one area—face, hands, feet, or back.
- Mucosal Vitiligo
In this, macules occur on mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and/or genitals.
- Focal Vitiligo
In this rare condition, macules occur in a small area and stay like that for up to 2 years before spreading further.
- Trichrome Vitiligo
In this, macules develop in such a way that there are three visible tones of skin at the affected area—the natural colour, completely depigmented skin, and an intermediate shade.
- Universal Vitiligo
In this rare condition, 80% or more of the skin loses the pigment.
Symptoms of vitiligo
The only symptom of vitiligo is the depigmentation of skin, hair, and other parts of the body including the inside of the mouth and nose. The affected person may notice few patches on their skin turning milky white (macules) or the hair on their body and/or head turning grey, white, or silver. If there are only few macules in small size, the person is considered to have mild vitiligo.
Causes of vitiligo
Melanocytes are the cells responsible for producing melanin in your body. Vitiligo occurs if the melanocytes stop functioning or malfunction due to various reasons, including:
- Autoimmune conditions in which the immune system attacks healthy melanocytes
- Environmental triggers such as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and/or toxic chemical exposure
- Genetic changes
How is vitiligo diagnosed?
A visual examination by a dermatologist can help in the accurate diagnosis of vitiligo. The doctor will likely use a Wood’s lamp (shining UV light) to eliminate the possibility of other diseases. In addition, the medical history of the patient and their family can also aid in correct diagnosis.
It is important to visit the doctor for correct diagnosis as there are other conditions that cause depigmentation of the skin and hair, such as chemical leukoderma, tines versicolor, albinism, and pityriasis alba.
Treatment for vitiligo
Vitiligo does not have any serious impacts on the overall health; hence, it doesn’t need treatment, but it can be challenging for people to lead happy social lives with this condition. Thus, if someone wants to have a uniform skin, they can either restore the original colour with the help of treatments like light therapy or remove the remaining colour from the skin with the help of depigmentation therapy. Additionally, there are medications to stop (or slow down) the condition from progressing further.
One can reduce the likelihood of getting vitiligo by following these tips:
- Protect the skin from excessive sun exposure and apply sunscreens.
- Maintain a healthy and hydrated skin.
- Avoid exposure to UV light or toxic chemicals.
Although vitiligo does not cause any damage to the health, people who have vitiligo might find it hard to enjoy their social lives. The white patches on their skin attract unwanted attention, but there is more awareness about the condition nowadays. Besides, some people with vitiligo have found that counselling sessions and/or talking about it with their loved ones can help them manage the condition better.
There are numerous treatment options available now with the advent of science and technology. However, since vitiligo is a chronic condition, the possibility of new patches occurring on the patient’s body is not zero. People can also choose to remove the remaining colour from their skin and avoid worrying about treatment again, but that might not be feasible for many individuals.
Living with vitiligo can be difficult, but people can go back to enjoying their lives with the help of proper guidance and counselling. Although rare, people with vitiligo sometimes can have their skin colour return to the original shade and have a uniform skin throughout.