Vitiligo : The ultimate guide

What Is Vitiligo?

man with Vitiligo hiding face

Vitiligo is a condition where skin loses its colour. It loses its colour in patches all around the body. This causes darker skin to suddenly become light in tone. This occurs as the cells in the skin that produce colour start to die off or stop working. This causes white spots to appear all around the skin with the potential for it to become completely white over time.

This occurs as melanocytes, the key cells that produce colour, are killed off. This often occurs as a result of the body attacking these melanocytes as the immune system is unable to keep them protected. The immune system may see these are foreign bodies that might put the rest of one’s body at risk of harm.

This causes many difficult effects around the body. In addition to causing patches of skin to become white, it also causes the pigmentation around the tissues inside the mouth and nose to change to where they will become white. The retina, the inner layer of the eye, may also be impacted as it will change in its colour. Hair loss is not a concern but the hair on spots that have been impacted by vitiligo may become white as a result of the condition.

What Does It Directly Influence?

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This condition typically impacts the entire body. However, it may also influence very specific parts of the body at the start before spreading to other locations. Sometimes it may occur on just one part of the body, thus being referred to as localized vitiligo. It may also occur on one side of the body in some more problematic cases.

The condition particularly impacts the extremities for the most part. It often impacts the hands and feet. It may also appear on the face or other parts of the body in some cases.

This also develops along many parts of the body that is not easily visible or might be harder to take care of. These include predominantly dormant sections like the skin around the armpits and the public region.

The inside parts of the mouth or nose may also develop vitiligo. This occurs as the tissues in these areas might become lighter in tone than the other spots around these areas.

What Patterns May Develop?

There are three patterns that may develop on the body. A focal pattern occurs when vitiligo develops on one or a few other areas around the body.

A segmental pattern occurs when patches of vitiligo are visible on only one side of the body.

A generalized pattern is the most common form of vitiligo. This is where the loss of pigmentation occurs on both parts of the body.

Can This Impact More Than the Skin?

While vitiligo influences the skin more than anything, other parts of the body may change colours. The eyes might change their colours in some cases. There might be times when one eye might lose its colour while the other does not. Also, various patches of hair around the body might start to lose their colour, thus leading to white or gray hair on various spots where there originally was none.

Can This Spread?

There is a potential for vitiligo to spread although whether it can do this varies by the form. Focal and segmental pattern vitiligo typically stays at one part of the body. Other forms of vitiligo will appear at various parts on the body.

The condition can spread progressively over time. It may not spread to other parts of the body but it may start to develop in various spots over the course of a few years. It is extremely difficult to determine how long it would take for vitiligo to spread on one’s body. In addition, stressful events that cause the skin to become weak will often cause vitiligo to spread even faster in some of the most intense cases.

What Causes Vitiligo To Develop?

It is not fully clear as to what causes vitiligo to develop. It is believed that the immune system may play a role in the development of vitiligo. In particular, the immune system will destroy the cells that cause skin to become dark over time.

Many autoimmune diseases will cause vitiligo to develop. These include hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland is overactive. Adrenocortical insufficiency, a condition where the adrenal gland does not produce the corticosteroid hormone as well as it normally would, may also be a threat.

Further research is needed to determine what can cause this condition to spread around the body. Many tests may be used to identify how the immune system and blood function within the body as these might be significant causes of vitiligo depending on what the body is experiencing and how it may respond to certain issues.

Can the Blood Impact Vitiligo?

A patient’s blood condition might influence how vitiligo develops. Pernicious anemia is a particularly important concern. This occurs when there is a low level of red blood cells in the body due to its inability to absorb vitamin B12.

A blood test is often used to determine if people have vitiligo. This is to see if it has antinuclear antibiodies. This kind of autoantibody may control how well the body defends itself against many autoimmune diseases. A lack of such antibodies as a result of there not being enough healthy red blood cells could be a substantial sign of vitiligo in many patients.

What Outside Threats May Occur?

In some cases the skin may lose its colour due to many outside issues. Sunburn or exposure to dangerous chemicals can cause the skin to develop vitiligo in some instances. This typically occurs around specific parts of the body that were exposed to such problems though.

Vitiligo may develop about two to three months after the skin is impacted by chemicals, sunburns or other issues. This timeframe means that the body will eventually over time start to suffer from a substantial amount of stress or pressure.

What Role Does Genetics Play?

There may also be some genetic causes that can promote vitiligo to develop. These include genetic issues where family members in the past have developed this issue. Specifically, those whose family members have experienced vitiligo in the past may be more likely to develop the condition themselves. Further research may be required to determine the genetic issues that may cause vitiligo to develop.

Who Develops It?

Anyone who has dark skin could potentially develop vitiligo. While genetics are a clear factor that will directly influence one’s ability to develop vitiligo, it is easier for people to develop it at various ages.

Most people who experience vitiligo develop it around their mid-twenties. Also, this impacts people of all races and sexes. However, it is easier to notice this in those who have darker skin.

Can It Be Prevented?

There are no known ways how people can prevent vitiligo from developing. However, those who do have it can reduce the intensity or spread of the condition by reducing the skin’s exposure to various triggers like the sun or chemicals. It also helps to prevent stresses from developing around the skin. It also helps to be protective around the skin by keeping it secured and covered when engaging in some sporting activities as some cuts or other extreme stresses from sporting activities might cause vitiligo to become worse.

Are There Any Dangerous Complications?

There are some cases where complications might develop in a person who has this condition. A person will be likely to suffer from social or emotional stress due to the substantial physical changes that will occur as a result of vitiligo.

People may experience sight or hearing issues. Hearing loss can develop in those with vitiligo. People may also develop eye problems like inflammation around the eyes.

Dry skin and itching sensations may also develop. The skin may also become weaker and more likely to experience skin cancer in various forms.

Is This Contagious?

Vitiligo is not a contagious condition. It may still be passed on to others through genetics.

Is This a Lifelong Condition?

Vitiligo is considered to be a lifelong condition in that it is not a reversible issue. The rate of progress for vitiligo around the body will vary by each person so it helps to watch carefully to see how this condition might develop in some cases.

vitiligo vector

How Is This Diagnosed?

Although it is clearly easy to identify vitiligo based on the changes that occur on the skin, vitiligo may particularly be mistaken for other conditions like psoriasis. Therefore, a proper diagnosis is required to determine if the condition is indeed vitiligo.

A small sample of skin tissue, or a biopsy, will be required in many cases. This is to review how the skin has developed. A sample that has a lack of melanocytes will be one that is bearing with the effects of vitiligo.

A blood test, as mentioned earlier, may work to identify how the immune system is functioning and if it is too weak. A lack of antibodies and red blood cells will certainly be a clear sign of vitiligo.

A specialist will be required when looking into the eyes or ears to see if discolouration in those areas is indeed vitiligo. This is to see that the condition is reviewed properly and without any problems. For instance, an eye doctor may take a look at your eyes to see if you are suffering from inflammation in the eyes or uveitis. This may occur while experiencing vitiligo in the eyes although this will certainly vary by each person.

What Medical Treatments Are Available For Vitiligo?

Medical treatments are available in many forms to help those who have vitiligo to keep this condition from being far too visible. These treatments do not necessarily cure vitiligo as there is no real way how it can be totally cured. However, it can reduce the appearance of the condition.

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What Topical Options Are Available For Treating Vitiligo?

Corticosteroids may be applied onto the skin to control the development of vitiligo. This works to restore the pigmentation to the skin. This works best during the initial stages of the condition to keep it from progressing far too much.

Corticosteroids work in a manner similar to cortisone, a common adrenal gland. This assists in restoring how well the skin cells function and can protect them from further damage.

Such a topical treatment will require a few months of regular use for it to be efficient and for results to be visible. It is critical to see that the product works properly and that it does not cause skin shrinkage or produce any lines or other marks on the skin as these might be signs of a more serious issue.

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Can Light Treatment Work For Vitiligo?

Light treatment is another solution for the treatment of vitiligo that may reduce its intensity. Narrow UVB light can be applied onto the skin to trigger the functionality of healthy skin cells. This encourages darker skin cells to develop properly and move around in the skin to keep it healthy.

The light treatment will work well to improve how the skin is treated properly. This may work without the use of added topical materials and should not generate many side effects. This may also be used at home through special devices provided by a doctor. However, the efficiency of the material will certainly vary based on the intensity of the condition and how well the body is able to respond to it.

Is Depigmentation a Necessity For Vitiligo?

There are cases where many treatment options for vitiligo may not work as well as desired. It is at this point where depigmentation might be required. This is a process where the darker skin will be lightened to match up with the lighter skin that has been produced as a result of vitiligo. This is particularly for more substantial cases of the condition where it cannot be reversed in some manner.

A drug called monobenzone, which is also known as Benoquin, can be applied onto the pigmented parts of the skin twice a day. This helps to reduce the intensity of darker skin cells, thus allowing the skin to become lighter. It removes old darker skin cells and encourages the production of newer skin cells that are lighter in intensity, thus allowing the skin to become lighter and easier to manage over time.

This is a permanent solution and is intended for people who cannot use other solutions for the treatment of vitiligo. Also, monobenzone may cause itching around the skin and inflammation in some cases. The skin will also become sensitive to sunlight and will require plenty of protection in cases where one is to go outdoors for any purpose.

What Surgical Options Are Available For Vitiligo?

Vitiligo may be treated through surgical options. This works in cases where topical creams and light therapy will not work properly.

Surgical options may be difficult for some people to bear with though. The problem with many treatments is that they might be too costly for some to afford. Also, they may not be covered by a number of insurance plans.

How Can Skin Grafts Work For Vitiligo?

A skin graft is a treatment option where a doctor will remove skin from one part of the body and move it to a different area. An autologous skin graft is the most common option to consider. In this, skin from one part of the body is removed and attached to a different part. Normal skin is then transferred to the original area to create a better appearance. This is for those with mild cases of vitiligo. This may not work for all people as scarring might develop in some of the more intense cases.

Skin grafts may also work through blisters. A doctor will create blisters on the pigmented skin by using cold or heat conditions applied onto the skin. The top parts of the blisters are cut and then removed to a part of the skin that does not have pigmentation. The scarring risk is minimal in this treatment option but it may not work for all people.

Can Tattooing Work For Vitiligo?

Tattooing could be used to cover up spots on the body where vitiligo is present. This comes from a process called micropigmentation. This is a treatment that is often used on the scalp to reduce the intensity of baldness but it may work on lighter skin areas.

Micropigmentation works in that a drill material similar to what is used for the creation of tattoos may be used on areas where the skin has become dark. This will apply pigmented spots onto the skin to create darker tones. This may be done with pigments that match up with the rest of one’s natural skin colour.

This may work well provided that the skin is treated properly. In particular, surrounding skin areas will be susceptible to sunburn and tanning but the area treated through tattooing will not. Also, there are no guarantees that a plastic surgeon can get an exact match going when it comes to finding the right form of pigmentation when getting the treatment to work to one’s liking.

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Can Melanocytes Be Grown?

There is a potential for melanocytes to be grown as a means of improving how well dark skin cells may be formed. An autologous melanocyte transplant may be utilized to improve how well such cells may develop and may improve how well the body can respond to vitiligo.

In this process, a doctor will take a sample of pigmented skin. This will be placed in a secure lab dish with an added cell culture solution included to help grow new melanocytes.

Over time, the number of melanocytes will increase in the sample. A doctor will transplant the melanocytes to the depigmented spots on the skin.

This is a unique practice but it is still a relatively new one. It is unclear as to whether or not any side effects could develop in this practice. Also, it is not certainly as to how well the body can tolerate the process as there is a potential for the implant to be rejected by a person who receives it.

What Therapy Options Are Available?

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While many treatment options may work for helping control vitiligo, there are often times when some treatment options may not work as well as they should. Therapy procedures may be utilised to help people keep their skin under control and to keep the effects of vitiligo from being far too difficult to manage.

In particular, sunscreen materials may be used to keep the skin healthy while in the sun. A proper sunscreen that offers UVA and UVB protection is needed to keep a person from suffering from further irritation.

In addition, some cosmetic products may be used to help people cover up many spots on their bodies that are suffering from a lack of pigmentation. This is for people whose condition is in spots at different parts of the body. Some self-tanning lotions or other makeup items may be added to small areas around the skin to keep vitiligo from looking visible.

However, there might be times when these solutions are not good enough and it will be difficult for people to bear with issues relating to vitiligo. It helps to receive assistance from support groups dedicated to those who are bearing with the effects of vitiligo.

It often helps for those who have vitiligo to receive therapy from proper professionals dedicated to helping people who are suffering from this condition. These include professions who have experience in offering mental support and can discuss the issues that people might hold as they are bearing with vitiligo.

It may also help for people with this condition to contact support groups for help. This is important as people can discuss what they are going through in support groups to help them understand what they can do to live with this condition and to keep it from being harder to live with than necessary.