Many people who know about the condition vitiligo understand that the condition does not hinder any other aspect of the life of a person with vitiligo except for their appearance. However, having an uneven skin tone might affect some people, leading them to opt for treatment options, such as topical creams, medication, and surgery. One of the most effective ways of treating the symptoms of vitiligo is surgery. You can find details about the latest surgical methods to treat the condition along with Vitiligo surgery costs here. Let’s start by understanding the vitiligo disease before diving into different surgeries available today.
As is already known, vitiligo is a skin condition that only affects the appearance of the affected person. It is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, which basically means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys a part of itself—melanocytes in case of vitiligo. The colour of the skin results from a pigment called melanin, and melanocytes (a type of cells) produce this pigment.
When melanocytes malfunction or stop functioning for numerous reasons, a white patch or depigmented spots appear on a person’s skin. It usually starts with a few spots on the face, hand, feet, or neck, but this is not absolute. As noticed in most cases of vitiligo around the world, these white patches (also known as macules) begin to spread over time. The depigmented skin usually becomes very sensitive and gets sunburn easily; thus, it is important to protect the skin of people with vitiligo to avoid severe sunburns (known triggers for the spread of vitiligo), itching, or redness.
Causes and risk factors of vitiligo
The exact causes of vitiligo are not clear, but studies have suggested that the following are some of the common causes that lead to this condition in some people:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Genetic changes or the presence of certain genes
- Environmental triggers such as long-standing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and toxic chemicals
Although a person can develop vitiligo irrespective of their gender or race, it is more evident in people with a dark skin tone. Usually, people get vitiligo before the age of 30 years. Here are some of the risk factors that increase the likelihood of an individual getting vitiligo:
- Family history of vitiligo
Treatment for vitiligo
Dermatologists usually consider the following approaches to determine the right treatment plan for people with vitiligo:
- Restoring the lost pigment
- Stopping the spread of macules/white patches
- Removing the remaining colour (rare)
The last option is recommended to people who have 50% or more of their body covered with macules, feel strongly about having an even skin tone, and do not respond to other forms of treatment. The most common treatment options include the following:
- Topical medication to restore colour (for example, ointments or creams with corticosteroid, tacrolimus, pimecrolimus, and calcipotriene)
- Light or therapy to restore colour that uses UV-A/B light and/or excimer laser
- Prescription medicines (immunosuppressants) to slow down the rate of developing new spots
- Surgeries to restore skin colour (for example, skin grafting and cell transplant)
It is also important to note that the treatments usually work very slowly (if they work at all); thus, having patience is the key. Additionally, vitiligo itself cannot be cured, but the symptoms are treatable. In rare cases, a person’s vitiligo might start acting months/years later after completing the treatment, and white patches may spread further.
Types of vitiligo surgeries available today and their costs
Vitiligo surgeries cost about INR 40,000–1,50,000 depending on the treatment. Here are some of the common surgeries recommended to people with vitiligo:
- Skin grafts
In this procedure, healthy skin is taken from different body parts and used to replace the macules/white patches.
- Cell transplantation
This is a highly advanced procedure in which a dermatologist extracts healthy melanocytes from the person’s skin and transplants these cells into the skin of the affected area.
- Both of these procedures are time consuming, and the patient undergoing these might end up with scarring.
Factors affecting the costs for vitiligo surgery
The costs of laser treatment for vitiligo are usually lower in India than those in other countries. The vitiligo surgery cost in India varies majorly depending on the following aspects:
- Type of surgery chosen
There are numerous surgical options used to treat the symptoms of vitiligo today, including phototherapy and cell transplant. The cost of surgery is determined after considering the operational cost of the process.
- Expertise of the surgeon
Dermatologists with more work experience have more finesse and expertise in their work; thus, they charge more than new doctors.
- Type of hospital
If the hospital offers more services, they will charge accordingly. So, if someone wants to cut down the costs, they can ask a surgeon to conduct the surgery in a hospital with only the essential services instead of a super-specialty hospital with 5-star hospitality.
- Condition of the patient
Most of these treatments’ costs are calculated on the basis of per square inch area to be treated. Thus, larger the amount of macules one has, higher the treatment cost.
Eligibility criteria for vitiligo surgery
Not everyone is eligible for these surgeries as the procedures are relatively new and require thorough research to accurately predict how people respond to them. Almost all vitiligo treatments are highly subjective and do not work across the board. A dermatologist will make the patient aware of all the appropriate procedures for them including risks and benefits involved with each. The following set of criteria is used to decide the eligibility of a person to undergo vitiligo surgery:
- The patient’s vitiligo must not have worsened in the past 12 months.
- The patient must not have developed any new macules in the past 12 months.
- The patient must not have vitiligo triggered by damage to the skin, such as in the case of a severe sunburn.
- The patient must be an adult.
This surgery is not ideal for the people who scar easily.
In a nutshell
To summarise the cost of vitiligo treatments varies depending on multiple factors including the surgeon’s expertise and the type of treatment chosen. Generally, topical treatments have minimal costs, whereas the price for vitiligo laser treatment ranges from INR 2,000–5,000 per session. Phototherapy requires multiple sessions over a span of few months to work. Besides, skin graft surgeries for vitiligo may cost about INR 20,000–40,000, and more advanced surgeries like cell transplant can cost up to INR 1.5 lakh.
It is important to note that each vitiligo treatment carries its own risks, and one should always do their research about the treatment plan. Additionally, a person can take second opinions from different dermatologists before going with any surgery as these treatment options are quite costly and might not work for everyone. If the decision is taking a toll on the mental health of a person, they can also consider going to counselling (there are numerous free alternatives for therapy as well).