Vitiligo is a disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body. This occurs when the cells called melanocytes which make pigment (colour) in the skin are destroyed. Vitiligo also affects the mucous membranes (such as the tissue inside the mouth and nose) and the eye.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Although the cause of Vitiligo is unknown, experts say it may be an autoimmune disease. These are diseases that occur when one’s immune system mistakenly attacks some other part of the body. In vitiligo, the immune system may destroy the melanocytes in the skin.
It is also possible that one or more genes may make a person more likely to get the disorder. Some researchers think that the melanocytes destroy themselves. Others think that a single event such as sunburn or emotional distress can cause it. But these events have not been proven to cause vitiligo.
Who Can Be Affected By Vitiligo?
Vitiligo can occur at any age but many people develop it in their twenties. The disorder affects all races and both sexes equally, however, it is more noticeable in people with dark skin.
People with certain autoimmune diseases (such as hyperthyroidism) are more likely to get Vitiligo than people who don’t have any autoimmune diseases. Scientists do not know why Vitiligo is connected with these diseases.
Vitiligo may also be hereditary. Children whose parents have the disorder are more likely to develop it. However, most children will not get it even if a parent has it.
What Are the Symptoms of Vitiligo?
White patches on the skin are the main sign of Vitiligo. These patches are more common in areas where the skin is exposed to the sun. The patches may be on the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips.
Other common areas where the patches may appear are armpits and groin (where the leg meets the body), around the mouth, eye, nostrils, navel, genitals and rectal areas.
People with Vitiligo often have hair that turns grey early. Those with dark skin may notice a loss of colour inside their mouths.
Does The White Patches Spread?
There is no way to tell if Vitiligo will spread. For some people, the white patches do not spread. But often the white patches will spread to other areas of the body. For some people, it spreads slowly, over many years. For other people, spreading occurs quickly. Some people have reported increased white patches after physical or emotional stress.
Can It Be Treated Or Cured?
Treatments are not right for everyone as many treatments can have unwanted side effects. Treatments can take a long time, and sometimes they don’t work. Treatment most times depends on the number of white patches, how widespread the patches are and the treatment the person prefers to use.
Current treatment options for Vitiligo include medical, surgical, and other treatments. Most treatments are aimed at restoring colour to the white patches of skin.
Medical treatments include:
- Medicines (such as creams) that you put on the skin
- Medicines that you take by mouth
- A treatment that uses medicine plus ultraviolet A (UVA) light (PUVA)
- Removing the colour from other areas so they match the white patches.
Surgical treatments include:
- Skin grafts from a person’s own tissues. The doctor takes skin from one area of a patient’s body and attaches it to another area. This is sometimes used for people with small patches.
- Tattooing small areas of skin.
Other treatments include:
- Cosmetics, such as makeup or dye, to cover the white patches
- Counseling and support.