Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches. It can affect the skin on any part of your body. Other parts of the body that can be affected are your hair, the inside of the mouth and even the eyes.
The extent and rate of colour loss from vitiligo are unpredictable. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning. Often vitiligo appears before the age of 20, but it can start at any age. People of all skins types can be affected, but it is more noticeable in people with darker skin. It is neither life-threatening nor contagious.
Doctors don’t know why the cells fail or die, but it may be related to –
- A disorder in which your immune system attacks and destroys the melanocytes in the skin
- Family history
- A trigger event, such as sunburn, stress or exposure to industrial chemicals.
The main sign of vitiligo is a colour loss that produces light or white patches on the skin. Other signs include whitening or greying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard, loss of colour in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose, loss of or change in colour of the inner layer of the eyeball, and discoloured patches around the armpits, navel, genitals and rectum.
If a doctor suspects you have vitiligo, they will ask about your medical history and do an examination to try to rule out other medical problems. A small sample of the affected skin may be taken and some tests will be done in addition to the examination and gathering of your medical history.
Treatment for vitiligo may improve the appearance of the affected skin but does not cure the disease. Medication alone or combined with light therapy can help to improve the skin’s appearance. There are creams that control the inflammation. The creams are easy to use and they are effective. They help return the colour to your skin.
Medications that affect the immune system can also be used. Light therapy is also used to help treat vitiligo on the face, trunk and limbs. Laser therapy brings back colour to the light patches by treating them with an excimer laser; however, it can only be used in small areas.
Surgery may only be an option for you if light therapy and medication don’t work.