Dr Tulika Arbat from Nagpur is an MD in dermatology. She has specialised in Aesthetic Dermatology and has received training in Lasers from Paris, France. Read what Tulika has to say about skin condition called ‘Vitiligo.’
Vitiligo is a skin condition having major impact on quality of life of patients, many of whom feel distressed and stigmatised by their condition. Society greets vitiligo patients the same way as it does any one else who appears to be different. They are stared at or subjected to whispered comments, antagonism, insult or isolation. The chronic nature of disease, long term treatment, lack of uniform effective therapy and unpredictable course of disease is usually very demoralising for patients suffering from vitiligo. It is important to recognise and deal with psychological components of this disease to improve their quality of life and to obtain a better treatment.
- What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition, in which the body attacks the cells called melanocytes. It results in loss of the normal skin colour, which become lighter coloured and ultimately become white. It affects about one percent of the world’s population.
- What causes vitiligo?
Skin colour is determined by the presence of a pigment called melanin. Our skin contains cells called melanocytes, which produce this pigment. When melanin is destroyed in certain areas of skin, vitiligo results. The exact cause as to why cells suddenly lose pigment is not yet fully known but many think that it 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.
- Who can get Vitiligo ? Is it hereditary?
It affects men and women of all races equally, but is most easy to see in people with dark skins. It can start at any age but usually occurs before the age of 20. It is not a disease, which can be transmitted. It is hereditary but if you have vitiligo, not necessarily your children might to get it too.
- What are the symptoms of vitiligo?
Melanin protects the skin against the sun and because of the lack of melanin in the vitiligo patches, they are prone to sun damage. Sun burns and photosensitive reactions occur more easily on vitiligo patches, which are exposed to the sun. Affected people may become depressed or embarrassed by the look of their skin.
- What does vitiligo look like?
Spots or patches in the skin, which are lighter coloured or have lost colour. There are other conditions, which can be present with lighter coloured patches. Therefore, it is better to get an evaluation done. Commonly, vitiligo is seen in the exposed areas like the hands and face. Oral mucosa and genital mucosa can also be affected. Vitiligo can also occur over areas of skin trauma, like cuts or burns. It is more prominent in people with dark skin because of the contrast.
- What is the prognosis ?
It depends on varied factors. Patches can be stable without enlarging or spreading and if they remain so for a period of two years it is called as stable vitiligo. It is more amenable to treatment. Localised vitiligo also responds favourably to treatment. Unstable vitiligo is more active with emergence of new patches and the disease becomes more generalised. Vitiligo of the mucosal areas is more resistant to treatment.
- How can vitiligo be treated?
The treatment of vitiligo is both medical and surgical. Treatment options are many and you should discuss the options in detail with your dermatologist. If Vitiligo is within 10% of the body surface area, topical treatments are preferred. If Vitiligo is more than 10% of the body surface area , it is better to consider systemic steroids, phototherapy or photochemotherapy. For localised stable Vitiligo, surgical options like punch grafts and split skin grafts could be considered. The use of a sunscreen helps to prevent burning of the white patches of vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes depigmentation (loss of skin color) in irregular patchy patterns. The disorder itself is rare, affecting only about 0.5% to 1% of the world’s population. Though Vitiligo is neither fatal nor life-threatening, there is a social stigma that results in lowered self-esteem among those with the skin condition. As a dermatologist who has treated patients with vitiligo, raising awareness is one way to help dispel the damaging myths and misunderstandings surrounding this visible skin disorder. Keep your self-confidence high. Learn and care about it with your dermatologist.
The ideas and information expressed are solely by the columnist and not by Nation Next.