Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease where the immune cells start to destroy the melanocyte cells – the pigment producing cells of the skin – out of a misdirected response. The pigment that gives your skin its normal colour is melanin, which is made by cells known as melanocytes. vitiligo is a disease in which the body makes antibodies to its own melanocytes, and in doing so destroys them. After that, the skin cannot make melanin properly, and vitiligo is the result.
The course and severity of vitiligo vary from person to person. Sometimes a few small patches develop slowly and progress no further. Sometimes a number of patches develop quite quickly and then remain static for months or years without changing. However, it is quite common for the white patches gradually to become bigger and for more patches to appear on other parts of the body. Large areas of the skin may eventually be affected.
There is no way of predicting how much of the skin will eventually be affected when the first patch develops. The white patches are usually permanent. Rarely, some patches of vitiligo may regain their colour (re-pigment) and return to normal. Be careful not to injure your skin, as you may be more likely to develop new white patches in areas of injury.
Vitiligo usually affects the skin, but it can develop anywhere we have pigment. Patches of hair can turn white. Some people lose color inside their mouths. Even an eye can lose some of its color. Vitiligo is not sore or itchy.
Vitiligo occurs in approximately 1% of the world’s population. Vitiligo is not contagious. It is not life-threatening. But, vitiligo can be life-altering. Some people develop low self-esteem. They may no longer want to hang out with friends or develop serious depression.
White patches caused by vitiligo cannot tan; they can only burn. Therefore, avoid being in the sun in the hottest times of the day to avoid sunburn. Cover white patches with clothes or a hat where possible, or with high-factor sunblock.
Who gets Vitiligo?
Millions of people worldwide have vitiligo. Nearly half get it before they reach 21 years of age. Most will have vitiligo for the rest of their lives. Vitiligo occurs about equally in people of all skin colors and races. About half the people who get vitiligo are male and half are female.
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 for white patches are:
- The armpits and groin (where the leg meets the body)
- Around the mouth
- Rectal areas.
People with vitiligo often have hair that turns grey early.
Types of Vitiligo
There are two main types of Vitiligo:
- Non-Segmental Vitiligo
- Segmental Vitiligo
In rare cases, it’s possible for vitiligo to affect your whole body. This is known as universal or complete vitiligo.
In non-segmental vitiligo (also called bilateral or generalised vitiligo), the symptoms often appear on both sides of your body as symmetrical white patches. Symmetrical patches can appear on the:
- backs of your hands
- skin around body openings, such as the eyes
Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo, affecting around nine out of 10 people with the condition.
In segmental vitiligo (also known as unilateral or localised vitiligo), the white patches only affect one area of your body.
Segmental vitiligo is less common than non-segmental vitiligo, although it’s more common in children. It usually starts earlier and affects three in 10 children with vitiligo.
Be patient with the treatment. Skin conditions usually needs long term treatment and there is no short-cut to cure.