What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a continuous long term skin condition that causes white patches to develop and spread on certain areas of the skin.
The white spots form due to the patient having a lack of skin cells known as melanocytes, which are cells that are responsible for the skin color. Pigmentation known as melanin keeps the skin safe from the sun’s UV rays. It is possible to find out how much the skin can get affected. In many cases the areas affected remain for long periods of time
What are the Causes of Vitiligo?
The causes of vitiligo are not yet known, but most practitioners say they are caused by the following:
- An autoimmune condition in which a person’s immune structure becomes overactive and damages the melanocyte.
- Genetic inheritance
- Psychological stress
- Harmful UV rays from the sun
- Exposure to various chemicals
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Facts on Vitiligo
Vitiligo cannot be transmitted from one person to the other. Less than 2% of people are affected by it, suggesting it is not common among people. It affects anyone regardless of sex or ethnicity, although the most affected are from the age of 20.
The appearance of vitiligo is not the same in each person. It is more noticeable on individuals with darker skins. Some individuals may get so many white patches that do not develop any more, while others get larger white spots that link together thus affecting larger parts of the body.
What are the Types of Vitiligo?
To easily explain this skin condition, professionals have separated the vitiligo in two forms which are non-segmental and segmental vitiligo.
It is the most popular form and happens to 90% of individuals who have this condition. The patches mostly become visible on both parts of the body with some type of symmetry. These patches mostly appear on the skin that is exposed to the sun often like the face, neck, and hands. But it’s not limited to other areas such as arms, leg, or the mouth.
Segmental vitiligo appears differently from the rest. It spreads faster, but is considered more content than non-segmental. It is definitively not common, and it affects around 10% of individuals with vitiligo. But unpredictably, it is more noticeable in the early phases. Unfortunately, this form is more common in children. In fact, 30% of the children with vitiligo have segmental vitiligo. It has an oval-like shape and mostly affects the dorsal areas of spine.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
The most common symptom of vitiligo is the loss of pigmentation (appearance of white spots) on skin. Most times they are noticeable on areas of the body exposed to the sun. The first seen symptom is the appearance of white patches, in some body parts it can spread very fast and on others, it can be quite slow.
The loss of pigmentation is common on the following body parts:
Also not as common, the white spots can also form on areas such as nostrils, eyes, armpits, and genitals.
Complications of Vitiligo
Those with this skin condition are also prone to:
- Eye problems
- Skin cancer
- Sun burn
- Loss of hearing
- Itchy or dry skin
- And most common: psychological and social stress
Treatment Options for Vitiligo
With advancements in medical research, there are quite a few options available for treating vitiligo. Some of them are affordable to most, but the others can be expensive.
Cosmetic Treatments: this method is quite cheap, but is only temporary for a small period of time (usually a day). It refers to application of makeup on the white spots or self-tanning.
Topical Treatments: this common treatment option is also affordable to most individuals. It includes applying medications that come in forms liquid, such as lotions, ointments, and gels.
Phototherapy with UVB: Exposing the parts affected to UVB rays is a simple, yet slightly expensive treatment method that can be carried out at most medical facilities. This treatment has to occur multiple times and it can take several months of it to be effective.
Phototherapy with UVA (PUVA Treatment): This is another treatment done using ultraviolet rays and is mostly carried out in hospitals. A drug that fastens the skin sensitivity has to be taken during the process. The affected parts normally go through the UVA rays. However, this method is not only costly, it also carries side effects, such as, sunburn, hyper-pigmentation, and nausea. This method is not recommended for children under the age of 10.
Surgery: For most people, this is the last option when other methods are not effective. There are 3 surgical methods used for treating vitiligo. They include: skin grafting, blister grafting, and micro-pigmentation.