Vitiligo, a rare skin condition, affects the outermost layer of the skin. It commonly appears as small dark patches, most often on the chin, nose, cheek, and forehead. These patches are normally light to dark, and sometimes they even appear in clusters. Although not yet fully understood, some cases of vitiligo may be linked to an infectious disease. Others may indicate an inflammatory reaction within the body.
Most patients with vitiligo experience moderate to severe redness, swelling, and itchiness in the areas where the skin lesions occur. In addition, some people may develop blisters or ulcers, but these usually subside after a short period. If you have mild to moderate vitiligo, your doctor may recommend light therapy for the most extreme cases. Light therapy involves exposing your skin to ultra-violet (UV) radiation.
In vitiligo, the melanocytes – tiny, brown-colored cells that produce melanin – are missing in most people. Since the melanocytes control melanin production, a lack of them can cause the white patches of vitiligo to form. Some patients have red hair, blue or green eyes, or dark skin. Vitiligo can affect men, women, and even children. It can also affect the internal organs, such as the lungs and kidneys, in its most severe form
Because there is no known cure for vitiligo, the only option available to treat this skin condition is to prevent it from occurring. This can involve maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding exposure to sunlight, wearing clothing that covers the head, avoiding certain cosmetics, and using moisturizers and sunscreen to protect the skin. Treatment options can also include medications, surgery, laser treatments, and natural remedies. Most drugs have unwanted side effects, so vitamin supplements, alternative therapies, or herbal remedies may be recommended.
A dermatologist determines the diagnosis of vitiligo through a series of skin tests, where he will look at the condition under a magnifying lamp and inspect your skin cells. Once he determines the presence of vitiligo, he will prescribe treatment to help reverse the effects of the condition. Treatment options include taking daily vitamins, applying sunscreen or moisturizers to the affected areas, avoiding exposure to UV radiation, and surgery if the patches appear too large.
Vitiligo isn’t contagious, but people who have a family history of the condition are more likely to develop it themselves. Researchers believe the root cause of the pigment patching is an overactive thyroid or a result of the body’s rejection of the pigment that causes the patches. Other causes of vitiligo include deficiencies of vitamin B12, chronic disease, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity, multiple sclerosis, medications, sun exposure, and stress. Vitiligo treatment is often difficult and ongoing. In some cases, the patches may not completely disappear independently and may continue to reoccur over time.
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