Vitiligo is a chronic disease that causes skin discolouration or fading, presented in the form of pale, white patches. Areas of discoloured skin commonly get bigger over time. This condition can affect any area of skin, including the hair, eyes, and the inside of the mouth.
Studies show that vitiligo affects up to 2% of the world’s population. This skin disease can be experienced by anyone, but are generally experienced by people before they enter their 30s.
Vitiligo occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin. Many cases of this disease are found in people with darker skin tones. Even though vitiligo is neither contagious nor life-threatening, it can trigger stress and a sense of insecurity.
Types of Vitiligo
Vitiligo may appear all over the body of a patient or only in one area. This is because vitiligo is divided into several types:
- Generalised vitiligo. Vitiligo patches are usually symmetrical and appear on both sides of the patient’s body. It usually appears on the eyelids, ears, nostrils, lips, hands, elbows, armpits, feet and knees.
- Segmental vitiligo. Vitiligo patches only appear on one side of the patient’s body. It usually appears on the face, neck, arms, torso and legs.
- Focal vitiligo. Only appears on one or both sides of the body in an inconsistent pattern. Focal vitiligo can develop into generalised vitiligo as it continues to spread.
- Acrofacial vitiligo. Vitiligo patches only appear on the lips, fingers and toes.
- Universal vitiligo. The rarest type of vitiligo where the body has lost more than 80% of pigment.
Causes of Vitiligo
Skin pigments serve to produce the colour of skin, eyes, and hair. When a body part has lost its pigment function, it is at risk of experiencing vitiligo, as the pigment cells have stopped producing colour or even die. Hence, the emergence of white patches in certain skin areas.
It is still unknown why pigment cells stop producing colour. This may be due to a number of factors:
- Genetic disorders of family members who have history of vitiligo.
- Autoimmune disease that causes disorders of the immune system.
- Certain events that can trigger vitiligo, such as stress, skin trauma, sunburn, and contact with chemicals.
When to See a Doctor for Vitiligo?
It is best not to wait for the vitiligo-affected skin to expand in size and spread. It is advisable for you to consult a dermatologist in order to get the right treatment from a professional.
When you consult with a dermatologist, the doctor will ask about your medical history and examine your skin condition using ultraviolet light to make it easier to diagnose and rule out the possible symptoms of other diseases, for example tinea versicolor. Examination for this skin disorder may also include taking skin tissue (biopsy) and blood tests.
Vitiligo is actually treatable. However, it can recur as it does not completely go away. There are two possibilities, temporary recovery or not recovering at all. This means that people with vitiligo may need lifelong treatment, depending on their condition.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
You should be aware of the early vitiligo symptom where there are white patches on your skin (hypopigmentation). The white patches and size of the skin affected by vitiligo will expand over time. The following are other symptoms of vitiligo to watch out for:
- Patchy loss of skin colour, which usually first appears on the hands, face, and areas around body openings and the genitals
- Loss of hair on your scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, moustache, or beard.
- Loss of colour in the tissues that line the inside of the mouth and nose (mucous membranes).
- Certain patients feel pain and itching in the skin areas affected by vitiligo.
- Red rash appears on the skin of a patient who develops vitiligo after exposure to sunlight.
- In some cases, the colour of the patches in the middle is white, while the edges are brownish or reddish.
Treatments for Vitiligo
There are various treatment options for vitiligo. Treatments given will depend on age, the amount of skin affected, the size of the discolored skin, and how quickly the disease progresses. Here are some ways to treat vitiligo according to the Mayo Clinic:
No drug can stop the process of vitiligo. However, some drugs, used alone, or combined with light therapy, can help restore some skin tone:
- Medications that control inflammation. Applying a corticosteroid cream prescribed by the doctor to affected skin. This is most effective when vitiligo is still in its early stages. Corticosteroid pills or injections may be an option for patients with rapid progress of vitiligo.
- Medications that affect the immune system. Ointments, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) or pimecrolimus (Elidel) may be effective for people with small areas of depigmentation.
Treatment options based on skin conditions:
- Light therapy. Phototherapy with ultraviolet B (UVB) light has been shown to stop or slow the progress of active vitiligo. This therapy is done 2 to 3 times a week.
- Combination of psoralens therapy and light therapy. Psoralens is a chemical capable of absorbing ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. The combination of the two is done to restore skin color.
- Removing the remaining color. This therapy may be an option if the vitiligo is widespread and other treatments have not worked.
In general, the doctor may recommend surgery if the patient has a stable condition. Techniques used in surgery to restore skin color include:
- Skin grafting. In this procedure, the doctor will transfer a very small part of the healthy, pigmented skin to areas that have lost the pigment.
- Blister grafting. In this procedure, the doctor will create blisters in the pigmented skin, which is then transplanted into the top of the discolored skin.
- Cellular suspension transplant. In this procedure, the doctor will take some tissue of the pigmented skin, put the cells in a solution, and transplant them onto the discolored area.
Estimated Treatment Cost for Vitiligo
The estimated costs for vitiligo treatment may vary widely, depending on how much of the skin area is affected by vitiligo, the type of treatment, and the choice of hospital.
The medication and therapy costs are certainly more affordable compared to surgery. You are recommended to consult your doctor first to determine the type of treatment.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of vitiligo treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Vitiligo
Although the disease is neither contagious nor life-threatening, vitiligo can affect one’s self-esteem. It is better to prevent the risk of vitiligo from an early age by:
- Maintaining a balanced diet.
- Avoid exercising in smoky air.
- Ensuring the hygiene of food and drink consumed.
- Avoid staying in a house that has been recently built, renovated or decorated.
- Applying sunscreen regularly to protect your skin from direct sunlight.
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Vitiligo
The following are some home care treatment suggestions that may help you care for your skin and improve its appearance:
- Avoid the use of tanning beds and sunlamps.
- Consume nutritious foods, such as vegetables and fruits.
- Drink lots of water to keep you hydrated
- Apply ointments or medicines prescribed by a doctor.
- Get regular therapy to gradually restore skin color.
- Protect skin from direct sunlight exposure and artificial UV rays by applying sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30.
Apart from home remedies, you are advised to regularly consult your dermatologist regarding your skin progress.