Vitiligo is a persistent and long-term skin problem, which creates white depigmentation blotches that develop and enlarge in certain parts of the skin.
Because the patient has very little or no skin cells known as melanocytes responsible for producing skin pigmentation, called melanin, which gives the color of the skin and protects it from the sun´s UV rays, these white patches are produced.
What causes Vitiligo?
Surprisingly, the causes of Vitiligo are not yet precisely established. However, most of the research points to the following:
- An autoimmune disorder when the patient's immune system becomes intense, and destroys the melanocytes
- Genetic oxidative stress imbalance
- Any stressful event
- Harm to the skin due to a critical sunburn
- Exposure to certain chemicals
- A neural cause
- A viral cause
However, Vitiligo is not transmittable or contagious. Today, less than 1% of the population is suffering from Vitiligo in their skin, which means that it isn’t too common. Vitiligo has no age, sex or ethnic discrimination, however research have concluded that a larger percentage of the incidents has been detected in people after the age group 20.
The signs and symptoms of Vitiligo vary considerably from patient-to-patient. It is by far more noticeable in people with dark or tanned skinned. While some people may only acquire a handful of white dots, others develop larger white patches that join together affecting larger areas of the skin.
Does Vitiligo cause intense Itching?
Vitiligo is synthesized by special cells called Melanocytes that also store the melanin. People who develop vitiligo usually first notice white patches or spots on their skin. While the skin remains in its normal texture, some people experience intense itching in areas where depigmentation is occurring.
Vitiligo is difficult to treat with varied responses. The most important cure is to protect areas affected by from the sun and its UV rays. This increases the risk of skin cancer. Hence, patients should wear sun-protective clothing and/or apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
Other treatments can be taken if vitiligo leads to social or emotional distress. The goals of these treatments are to reduce the contrast in color between your normal skin and skin patches that have lost pigment.
- If you are light-skinned, protect your normal skin from tanning by using sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
- Topical treatments are can also be effective in some patients. These are applied directly to the skin. Ointments or steroid creams are applied once a day for up to several months. These medications are not always effective, and they can thin the skin with continued use.
- Ultraviolet B-light treatment can be useful in treating Vitiligo in many patients. These can be provided by a hand-held light box for smaller areas of skin. Patients with major body areas affected by these patches can be treated by putting on goggles and standing inside a closet-sized light box for several minutes. The treatment must be repeated often, usually for three times a week and for at least six months. It’s better to discuss the side-effects before using the treatment.
- Psoralen and ultraviolet A light treatment (PUVA) causes slightly more pronounced side effects than ultraviolet B light therapy, however it is another effective way to treat vitiligo. These are the drugs that cause skin to darken when they react with ultraviolet A light. They can be applied as a cream or taken as pills.
- Oral medicines that suppress your immune system can allow normal pigment to return sometimes. For people with severe vitiligo, oral steroids sometimes are used instead of steroids applied to the skin. Because of the potential side effects, this treatment is seldom used.
- Depigmentation is used in people with severe vitiligo to remove the color from normal skin and make all of the skin the same white color. Since, the skin without pigment is very prone to damage from sun exposure, this treatment is rarely used. A bleaching solution is applied every day for up to a year. About 95 percent of people will be depigmented within the treatment period, and should avoid sun exposure. Side effects include skin redness, itching, dryness and burning, especially on the face.
- Skin grafting is a technique to peel normal skin from less visible body areas and using this skin to replace white areas in places where the person has the most cosmetic concerns. This technique is used only in a very small number of people with vitiligo.