Vitiligo : Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
Vitiligo is a common skin disease in which the immune system of the body destroys the cells that produce pigment (melanin) in the skin due to which skin loses its color and forms irregular white patches on the skin. It mostly affects the areas that are rubbed or exposed to the sun, such as hands, arms, face, feet, and lips. These changes on the skin do not affect physical health but result in stress. Vitiligo develops in both male and female, but mostly seen in the people with dark skin color. It mainly occurs at an early age, i.e. before 20 years.
Symptoms of Vitiligo
The symptom of vitiligo includes:
- White patches with loss of skin color
- Color change of the retina (inner layer of the eyeball)
- Loss of color inside the mouth and nose
- Whitening of hairs on scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard
- Loss of color in tissues of the mucous membrane
Causes of Vitiligo
The exact cause of the disease is not clear, but there are some essential factors that cause vitiligo, which include:
- Immune system: The immune system mistakenly attacks itself and starts destroying the pigment-producing cells. People with Hashimoto’s disease (which destroy the thyroid gland) and alopecia (patchy hair loss) have more chances to get vitiligo as well.
- Heredity: Any family history of vitiligo also plays an important role in developing this disease.
- Physical trauma: Stress, sunburn, and exposure to some chemicals may worsen the condition.
The potential complications of vitiligo include:
- Skin cancer
- Hearing loss
- Iritis (eye problems)
- Psychological distress
Diagnosis of vitiligo
The methods to diagnose vitiligo include:
- Physical examination: Dermatologist examines the skin from head to toe by using a lamp (Wood’s lamp) to shine ultraviolet light onto the skin to check where pigmentation appears
- Skin biopsy: A skin biopsy is a procedure in which a doctor cuts and removes a small sample of skin to have it tested. Vitiligo is diagnosed if the pigment-producing cells are missing.
Medical history: Doctor asks about the past and current history of vitiligo or other health conditions
Steps that help to reduce the severity of the condition from developing vitiligo include:
- Avoid skin-lightening products
- Take a multivitamin, if prescribed by a doctor
- Avoid herbs that contain immune booster
- Avoid exposure to sunlight or chemicals
- Use sunscreen every day
- Avoid food like citrus fruits, fish, grapes, red meats, tomatoes, and pickles
- Avoid beverages/drinks like alcohol, coffee, and fruit juice
Treatment of vitiligo
There is no specific therapy available for vitiligo, but the following treatment options can treat the symptoms such as the appearance of affected skin by either restoring the skin color or eliminating the white patches:
- Corticosteroid cream helps to control inflammation and restore the skin color.
- Pimecrolimus or tacrolimus ointment affects the immune system and produces melanin in the skin.
- Afamelanotide is used to stimulate color producing cells
- Prostaglandin E2 gel is used to control melanocytes
- Tofacitinib helps to restore skin color.
- Therapy: Combination of orally or topically applied psoralen (plant derived substance) and light therapy (photochemotherapy) used to restore the color to the white patches.
- Surgery: Skin grafting (by removing small patches), suction blister grafting (skin transplantation), and micro-pigmentation (by implant pigment onto the skin) are used to restore the skin color
- Laser treatment: High-powered beams are used to remove the outer layers of your skin.
- Alternative treatments: Ginkgo biloba, folic acid, and vitamins C and B-12 may restore the skin color.
- Diet: Special diet such as figs and date, kale lettuce, root vegetables, carrots, bananas, and chickpeas is used to improve the condition of vitiligo.