Melanocytes produce ‘melanin’ which gives our skin a brown colour. Loss of these cells leads to loss of the colour leading to white patches.
The exact cause of Vitiligo is not known. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease with underlying genetic predisposition.
All white patches on skin are not Vitiligo. A dermatologist can help in differentiating between various types of white patches. A dermatologist will also suggest the optimal mode of therapy and counsel the patient and his/her family about the disease.
The goals of treatment are to control the spread of disease and to regenerate pigmentation in the areas that have lost the same. Treatment choice in Vitiligo is based on number, site and extent of involvement and patient convenience. Also supportive camouflage treatment helps to reduce social problems while the patient is on corrective therapy.
Some More Questions
- Vitiligo affects approximately 1% of the population. Sometimes it is seen in other members of the family. The inheritance pattern is complex since Vitiligo is caused by multiple factors.
- On an average it has been found that 20 – 30 % of all Vitiligo patients have at least one close relative afflicted by the disease.
- No. Vitiligo is not transmissible to family members or contacts.
- Medical treatment include oral medications and topical creams which may achieve the objective of stopping the spread of disease and regaining pigmentation in most areas.
- Ultraviolet light therapy includes exposing the affected area to ultraviolet A (UVA) or Ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy.
- Surgical treatments include taking skin grafts from a person’s own body and transplanting the entire skin or the melanocytes (colour producing cells) in the affected area. This is usually done when the disease is stable i.e. not increasing in size or number. Various surgical grafting modalities are punch grafting, blister grafting, smash grafting and melanocyte transfer surgery
- Tattooing of the vitiligenous skin and cosmetic camouflage can help to cover the white patches.
Protecting the vitiligenous skin against sun exposure is important and can be achieved by using sunscreens and wearing full sleeved clothes.
Vitiligo can occur in very young children. There are fewer treatment options in children compared to an adult. NB-UVB can be used in children, but Psoralen and UVA light is recommended only above the age of 12 years. Topical creams and lotions can be used but this has to be done strictly under the supervision of a dermatologist.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease and therefore, as with any other autoimmune disease, it cannot be fully cured. Treatment can slow its progress and in many cases prevent further spread of the disease; however the disease may recur after stopping the treatment. Vitiligo can be treated effectively if a person consults a dermatologist at very early stage. Proper treatments with regular follow up increase the chances of complete pigmentation
Understanding the innocuous and cosmetic nature of disease can help to prevent psychological distress. It is also important to understand the limitations of therapy in providing a complete repigmentation. Working with, and supporting the doctor through the prolonged therapeutic course gives better results.