Before we see vitiligo causes and vitiligo treatment we see that, vitiligo is a disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body. This happens because the cells that make pigment (colour) in the skin are destroyed. These cells are called melanocytes. Vitiligo can also affect the mucous membranes (such as the tissue inside the mouth and nose) and the eye.
The exact vitiligo causes are unclear. A number of factors may contribute.
- An autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system becomes overactive and destroys the melanocytes.
- A genetic oxidative stress imbalance.
- A stressful event.
- Harm to the skin due to a critical sunburn or cut.
- Exposure to some chemicals.
- A neural cause.
- Heredity, as it may run in families.
- A virus.
Vitiligo is not contagious. One person cannot catch it from another.
It can appear at any age, but studies suggest that it is more likely to start around the age of 20 years.
The only symptom of vitiligo is the appearance of flat white spots or patches on the skin. The first white spot that becomes noticeable is often in an area that tends to be exposed to the sun. It starts as a simple spot, a little paler than the rest of the skin, but as time passes, this spot becomes paler until it turns white. The patches are irregular in shape. At times, the edges can become a little inflamed with a slight red tone, sometimes resulting in itchiness. Normally, however, it does not cause any discomfort, irritation, soreness, or dryness in the skin. The effects of vitiligo vary between people. Some people may have only a handful of white dots that develop no further, while others develop larger white patches that join together and affect larger areas of skin.
There are two types of vitiligo, non-segmental and segmental.
If the first white patches are symmetrical, this suggests a type of vitiligo known as non-segmental vitiligo. The development will be slower than if the patches are in only one area of the body. Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type, accounting for up to 90 percent of cases. The patches often appear equally on both sides of the body, with some measure of symmetry. They often appear on skin that is commonly exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck and hands.
Common areas include:
- Backs of the hands.
- Armpit and Groin.
- Genitals and Rectal area.
Non-segmental vitiligo is further broken down into sub-categories:
There is no specific area or size of patches. This is the most common type.
This occurs mostly on the fingers or toes.
This appears mostly around the mucous membranes and lips.
Depigmentation covers most of the body. This is very rare.
One, or a few, scattered white patches develop in a discrete area. It most often occurs in young children.
- Segmental vitiligo:
Segmental vitiligo spreads more rapidly but is considered more constant and stable and less erratic than the non-segmental type. It is much less common and affects only about 10 percent of people with vitiligo. It is non-symmetrical. It is more noticeable in early age groups, affecting about 30 percent of children diagnosed with vitiligo. Segmental vitiligo usually affects areas of skin attached to nerves arising in the dorsal roots of the spine. It responds well to topical treatments.
Some vitiligo treatments are not right for everyone. Many treatments can have unwanted side effects. Treatments can take a long time and sometimes they don’t work. Current treatment options for vitiligo include medical, surgical and other treatments. Most treatments are aimed at restoring color to the white patches of skin.
Medical treatments include:
- Topical corticosteroids.
- Drugs affecting immune system.
- A treatment that uses medicine plus ultraviolet A (UVA) light (PUVA).
Surgical treatments include:
- Skin grafts from a person’s own tissues. The doctor takes skin from one area of a patient’s body and attaches it to another area. This is sometimes used for people with small patches of vitiligo.
- Tattooing small areas of skin.
Other vitiligo treatments include:
- Cosmetics, such as makeup or dye, to cover the white patches
- Counselling and support.
People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of:
- Social or psychological distress.
- Sunburn and skin cancer.
- Eye problems, such as inflammation of the iris (iritis).
- Hearing loss.