Vitiligo: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Certain skin conditions are very apparent on your skin. One such condition is vitiligo. It causes discoloration in skin and may be a cause of stress and self-consciousness among individuals suffering from it. This detailed article explains this condition, its causes, symptoms and treatment through following chapters:
- Vitiligo and Its Types
- Causes, Risks and Symptoms
- Diagnosis and Home Remedies
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo can happen to anyone of any skin type, but it is more common and noticeable in people with dark skins. This condition is not contagious, but it does have genetic links which means if any family member has it, it is likely that other family members might also experience it.
The white patches in the skin show that there is some problem in melanin function. Melanin production determines your skin colour. If there is some problem in in melanin production, it means melanocytes—cells that produce melanin—are not functioning normally.
If you get treatment for vitiligo, it may restore colour of the skin, but it doesn’t prevent recurrence or spreading of the condition.
Vitiligo can happen to anyone with any skin type. It happens mostly from age 10 to 30 years. It almost always happens before the age 40.
This condition may run in the family. Autoimmune diseases may increase your chances of getting this condition.
Types of Vitiligo:
Following are the main types of vitiligo:
- Non-Segmental Vitiligo
- Segmental Vitiligo
- Trichrome Vitiligo
- Universal Vitiligo
Non-segmental vitiligo is also called generalised vitiligo. The symptoms often appear on both right and left sides of your body as symmetrical white patches.
These symmetrical patches can appear on backs of both of your hands, arms, eyes, feet, knees elbows etc. This type of vitiligo is more common than other types.
Segmental vitiligo is also called localised vitiligo where the patches only affect one area of your body. This situation is more common in kids happening between the age of 3 to 10 years.
Trichrome shows a gradation of colour where an area of heavy discoloration is followed by an area of lighter discoloration and then by regular-colour skin.
Universal vitiligo affects 80% of the skin and is a rare type.
Causes Risks and Symptoms
It is not exactly clear what destroys these melanocytes which causes this lack of melanin but there are some potential causes that can cause dysfunction of melanocytes.
These conditions occur because immune system is not working properly. This dysfunction makes the body cells attack healthy cells of the body instead of foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. Other autoimmune conditions are thought to increase your chances of getting vitiligo e.g. hyperthyroidism.
Non-segmental vitiligo is considered as an autoimmune condition which means in this case your own immunity system is acting abnormally.
Certain neurochemicals are said to be the cause of other types of vitiligo like segmental vitiligo. Certain chemicals released from nerve endings in the skin can be poisonous to melanocyte cells causing them to act abnormally.
Following are some of the risk factors that increase your chances of having vitiligo:
- History of disease in the family
- Other autoimmune conditions e.g. hyperthyroidism, pernicious anemia etc.
- Other skin conditions like melanoma
- Skin damage by cuts
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- Stressful conditions
Vitiligo symptoms include:
- Depigmentation and loss of skin colour
- Depigmentation in mucous membrane like the inside of mouth
- Greying of hair if it happens on the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard
- Whitening of skin generally happens on the hands, face, areas around eyes, mouth and the genitals.
Vitiligo happens to affect people differently. It cannot be predicted how it will affect a certain person. In some people, it happens only on hands and face. For others, it can happen on other body parts like arms, legs, elbows etc.
In some cases, it happens around body openings like eyes, ears, nose and genitals. In non-segmental vitiligo, corresponding patches on left and right side of the body appear.
In some cases, the patches seem to spread while in other they stay localized. Universal vitiligo spreads to 80% of the body.
It is not possible to predict how your disease will progress in a particular case. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment and the skin gets its colour back.
Diagnosis and Home Remedies
Diagnosis of vitiligo is easy as the doctor will be able to tell you by looking at your skin where it is affecting you.
In order to understand the cause behind your skin condition the doctor will ask you questions to understand if other members of your family have this condition or other autoimmune conditions.
As non-segmental vitiligo is closely associated with other autoimmune conditions, you may be assessed to see whether you have any symptoms that could suggest an autoimmune condition. The doctor will ask your for symptoms of hyperthyroidism and diabetes to rule out these causes.
There are certain tests like Wood’s lamp that the doctor might be able to do in order to get a sense of your condition.
It uses an ultraviolet (UV) lamp called a Wood’s lamp that is used to look at your skin’s condition in a dark room. The white patches can be seen easily under UV light and is used to distinguish vitiligo from other skin conditions. The lamp will be held 10 to 13cm away from your skin to see depigmentation.
Some home remedies can be done at home to help your skin look better:
*Cover affected skin with makeup or tanning products.
*Do not use artificial tanning services.
*Don’t get tattoos.
*Use sunscreen (at least SPF 30) when you’re outside and reapply it every 2 hours.
There are certain medications like corticosteroid cream that can help regain your original skin colour. It can also help you if your vitiligo is spreading fast. In this case, it is normally given as pill or injection. It inhibits further spread of white skin patches.
Another medication is calcineurin inhibitor ointment that is used rarely. It affects your immune system to ease inflammation. These medicines are not prescribed very often because of their association linked to skin cancer and lymphoma.
Some supplements can help light therapy in being more effective. They include folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin B12, alpha-lipoic acid etc. Consult your doctor before taking any of these supplements.
There are certain therapies to help with vitiligo. Phototherapy, or light therapy is one of those that uses UVA light to slow down the progression of vitiligo.
This therapy is given in doctor’s supervision a few times a week but there are portable devices that can also be used at home. This therapy takes a long time to show results.
These therapies can be used in combination with other medications like psoralen. You apply it as ointment or take it orally before getting light therapy. This is more effective than regular light therapy.
Other procedures like lightening the skin are also employed. It basically works when most of the body has been covered in light patches. In this case, depigmentation is carried out for the rest of the skin to lighten it and match the colour of most of the skin.
There are also side effects of these procedures including swelling, redness, itching and dry skin. Based on your medical condition, your doctor should be able to tell you which procedures are right for you.
There are some options of surgeries like skin grafting and blister grafting that can utilize healthy skin to replace discoloured skin.
In skin grafting, a surgeon transfers healthy portions of your skin to the discoloured areas. If you have small patches, then this can be effective because if it is big patches you would need more of healthy skin to replace it.
In blister grafting, blisters are created on your healthy skin from where top of those blisters are removed to graft onto discoloured skin.
A cellular suspension transplant works in a similar way where your doctor takes tissues of your healthy skin, puts them into a solution, and moves them onto your discoloured skin.
If you have vitiligo, it is important to stay cautious because certain issues can complicate matters more. For example, sunburn, eye issues and hearing loss can make it complicated.
Having such a skin condition can make you feel left out from the society. It can make you self-conscious of yourself. This can make you feel stressed and make you feel isolated. It is important that you seek help so counter depression.
There are ways that can help you rise from these situations like talking to therapist, talking to friends and family, looking for a treatment, accepting your skin condition because beauty does not conform to one ideal. Beauty is found in all shapes and forms.
There are treatments and ways that can help you counter this condition, but it is important not to give in to societal ideals of beautiful skin if you cannot find treatment for your skin.
Look for treatments suitable for your skin but remember these beauty ideals are man-made. You are more than what you skin looks like. Don’t forget that.