Although vitiligo is a rare condition that affect about 1% of the world population, more and more people are becoming aware about the disease. Early signs of vitiligo usually include white spots here and there on a person’s body.
Vitiligo is considered to be an autoimmune skin disease that occurs when a type of cell in your body—melanocytes—stops functioning. Treatment for people with early stages of vitiligo is often easier than that for people who have had this condition for years.
Let’s explore the types of vitiligo, early stage vitiligo symptoms, and the complications of vitiligo.
Type of vitiligo
Vitiligo is divided into two major categories on the basis of the position of the white patches on the body:
- Segmental Vitiligo
People who have this condition will notice first signs of vitiligo—white patches—in a particular area, such as the head, one arm/leg, back, and/or stomach.
- Non-segmental Vitiligo
In this type of vitiligo, the white spots/patches (or macules) occur in a random fashion on the person’s body. Non-segmental vitiligo is also easier to treat than segmental vitiligo.
Early symptoms of the vitiligo disease
As is common knowledge, the white patches/macules are the starting symptoms of vitiligo. However, vitiligo can cause the depigmentation (loss of colour) of the mucous membranes as well, including the nose, ears, and mouth. Usually, people don’t get depigmentation in their mucous membranes as an early symptom of vitiligo, but it is possible.
If you notice any of the following you might have vitiligo:
- Depigmentation of the skin
- Loss of colour in your eyes (the iris)
- Several white/grey/silver hair (including facial hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair)
Few people also get early signs of thyroid problems including digestive issues, mood swings, unexplained fluctuation in weight, hair loss, and memory problems.
Risk factors and complications with the vitiligo disease
Some people are more susceptible to developing vitiligo than others, for example:
- People who have a family history of vitiligo or other autoimmune conditions
- People who have extended exposure to toxic chemicals or ultraviolet light
- People who have melanoma (the most severe skin cancer) or are being treated for it with immunotherapy
Sometimes people with vitiligo can also develop a hearing loss if they have any macules in their ear canal. Apart from this, the biggest complication of this condition is the social stigma. People with vitiligo find it difficult to socialise and may require counselling; this is especially true for children with this disease who might have to face bullying and/or self-esteem issues.
When to see a doctor?
Vitiligo is characterised by the white patches, but there are other diseases that have similar symptoms, such as sarcoidosis and idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH). Thus, it is important to consult a doctor right away upon seeing early vitiligo symptoms, including the depigmented patches on your body. Your doctor will use a ‘Wood’s lamp’ to correctly diagnose your condition and may also recommend some blood tests.
You can explore the numerous treatment options available for you and discuss ways to manage the health condition with your doctor.