What is vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a chronic disorder that causes white patches to appear on the skin. It occurs when melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin pigmentation, die or are unable to function. The cause is not known. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. Symptoms usually begin between ages 10 years and age 30 years, and may include, whitening or graying of hair, loss of skin color inside the mouth, loss of eye color but the most notable symptom of vitiligo is depigmentation of patches of skin that occurs on the hands, feet, arms, face, and lips. Other common areas are: Armpits and groin, around the mouth, eyelids, nostrils and navel. Although patches are initially small, they often enlarge and change shape, and can become widespread.

How does vitiligo develop?

There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are a number of treatments that improve the condition. A high protection sun-block should be applied to areas of vitiligo to prevent sunburn.

In mild cases, vitiligo patches can be hidden with makeup or other cosmetic camouflage solutions. If the affected person is pale-skinned, the patches can be made less visible by avoiding sunlight and the sun tanning of unaffected skin.

What causes vitiligo?

Studies have shown that creams such as Protopic and Elidel can help repigmentation in some cases, when used with narrowband UVB treatments. Psoralen and Ultraviolet A light, PUVA, treatment involves taking a drug which makes the skin very sensitive to light. The skin is then exposed to ultraviolet A light. Treatment is required twice a week for 6–12 months or longer. PUVA may cause side effects such as 'sunburn' type reactions or skin freckling. Narrowband ultraviolet B, UVB phototherapy is now used more commonly than PUVA as it is less damaging to the skin than PUVA. As with PUVA, treatment is carried out twice weekly but there is no requirement to pre-sensitize the skin and the treatment sessions are much shorter.

How is vitiligo treated?

In cases of extensive vitiligo the option to de-pigment the unaffected skin with topical drugs like monobenzone, mequinol or hydroquinone may be considered to render the skin an even color. The removal of all the skin pigment is permanent and it takes about a year to complete.

When you have vitiligo, you may be upset or depressed about the change in your appearance. You can do several things to cope with the disorder. Learn about the disorder and treatment choices. This can help you make decisions about your treatment. Talk with other people who have vitiligo, or join a vitiligo support group. Family and friends are another source of support. Find a counselor if you need further support.


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