Do you have white patches on the skin in different parts of the body?
It is nothing but vitiligo, one of the skin disorders in which white spots appear on the skin when your skin loses its pigment due to the destruction of melanocytes. It is usually called as pigmentation disorder.
Melanocytes are pigment cells located in the surface layer of the skin called epidermis and are responsible for producing melanin. Melanin is a dark, brown pigment that gives color to the skin and also protects from ultraviolet radiation.
When melanin production is stopped by melanocytes, the skin becomes pale, leaving areas of white patches. It occurs at any age, but mostly it occurs between the ages of 20 and 30. It appears as a few small pigmented patches or spread over the entire body.
What causes vitiligo?
Your skin is made up of two cells called keratinocytes and melanocytes. The bulk of the skin is made by keratinocytes. Melanocytes make the skin color. If you have vitiligo, the immune cells attack the melanocytes and kill them. The skin turns white when melanocytes in certain area die.
Vitiligo sometimes run in families that means a genetic factor may be involved. It also occurs at the site of an old injury. Exposure to chemicals, physical stress or emotional stress can also cause this disorder.
Recognizing vitiligo! If you are affected with vitiligo, you first notice white patches on your skin. The patches are found on sun-exposed areas of the body which includes arms, face, lips, hands and feet.
The patches also appear on armpits, groin, eyes, nostrils, genitals, navel and around the mouth.
Vitiligo symptoms appear in one of three patterns:
- Focal pattern, in which de-pigmentation is limited to one or few areas.
- Segmented pattern, in which de-pigmented patches develop on one side of the body only.
- Generalized pattern, in which de-pigmentation occurs symmetrically on both sides of the body.
Vitiligo diagnosis can be made based on physical examination, medical history and lab tests. The health care professional suspect vitiligo if the examination reports white patches on the skin, particularly on sun exposed areas.
The doctor will also know about your family history and whether you had rash, sunburn, or any skin problem before de-pigmentation started. To confirm the diagnosis, doctor takes the sample of affected skin to examine under a microscope.
If you have vitiligo, the skin sample will show a complete absence of pigment producing melanocytes.
How vitiligo can be treated?
You should use strong sunscreen lotion to prevent sunburn of severely affected skin. Photo chemotherapy has been used extensively for vitiligo treatment. The treatment combines a light activated drug psoralen with ultraviolet A irradiation (PUVA).
The de-pigmented areas can be covered with make up, self-tanning compounds dihydroxyacetone and dyes which can help temporarily conceal the white patches.
The restoration of normal pigment can be achieved with re-pigmentation therapy or corticosteroids. To get re-pigmentation, new pigment cells must be produced from existing one.