Vitiligo or Leucoderma is an autoimmune skin condition leading to “white patches” on the skin and in some cases loss of color from the hair, and rarely the eyeballs. These patches appear because of the loss of melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells responsible for producing the skin pigment known as melanin which gives color to the skin and protects it from the ultraviolet rays. Vitiligo can affect either the large areas (generalized), can affect only limited areas (localized) or can affect just the fingertips and lips (lip-tip vitiligo) and sometimes just the mucosal surfaces such as the lips or the genitalia (mucosal vitiligo).
There is considerable psychosocial morbidity associated with vitiligo and there is certain social stigma associated with this disease. Few pertinent points are:
1. Treatment of vitiligo DOES EXIST – Medical and surgical. Vitiligo can be re-pigmented, i.e. color in the patches can be produced and maintained.
2. Vitiligo is NOT CONTAGIOUS.
3. Vitiligo also has laser treatment available.
Vitiligo can affect people irrespective of their age or gender. Generally, this skin condition is categorized as:
1. Non segmental Vitiligo – The non-segmental or generalized vitiligo is the most common type of vitiligo which affects both sides of the body and patches can be seen all over the body including scalp, face, neck, hands, legs and genitals.
2. Segmental Vitiligo – The depigmentation is confined to only one side of the body and it is mostly seen in children.
Causes of Vitiligo
The exact reason why vitiligo occurs is still unknown but many researches have shown that the following factors can be considered as a reason for its occurrence:
- Autoimmune disorder which means the patient’s immune system becomes overactive and destroys the melanocytes.
- Can be because of some viral cause
- Heredity or genetic disorder
- Exposure to some harmful chemical
- A neural disorder
Symptoms of vitiligo
1. The main symptom is the appearance of white spots or white patches on the skin.
2. The shape of these white patches is irregular, however, they do not cause any soreness, discomfort, irritation or dryness in the skin. There are no surface changes on the patches.
3. These white patches are photosensitive, so patients suffering from vitiligo should avoid exposure to the direct sunlight for a prolonged period.
4. The patches might increase or spread (Progressive vitiligo) or they stabilize and do not grow for months or even years (Stable vitiligo).