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  5. Vitiligo: Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Are you worried about the sudden appearance of discoloured patches on your skin? You may have developed vitiligo, a condition where the skin loses its natural pigmentation. While this is not a threatening condition, it can be both frustrating and stressful.

Understanding this skin condition can give you a wider scope for dealing with it. And fortunately, there is treatment available to stop vitiligo. Let’s discuss the types, symptoms and treatments of vitiligo here.

Vitiligo And Its Different Types

Vitiligo is a skin condition in which discoloured skin patches develop on various parts of the body. It tends to grow bigger and spread if not treated on time. Vitiligo can affect not just the body, but also your hair.

As you know, the pigmentation of your skin and hair is determined by the percentage of melanin in your body. When the melanin cells die in a particular area of your skin, that part becomes discoloured, causing vitiligo. This condition does not discriminate between skin types, and is more visible in people with darker skin as the patches appear more prominent on them. [1]

Types Of Vitiligo

1. Generalized Vitiligo:

Generalized vitiligo appears all over the body. You will notice discoloured white patches on every part of the body. It is considered to be the most common type of vitiligo.

2. Focal Vitiligo:

Focal vitiligo is when there is a discoloured patch on just one spot in the entire body and it does not spread.

3. Segmental Vitiligo:

In case vitiligo is restricted to just one part of the body such as hands or face, it is called segmental vitiligo.

4. Trichrome Vitiligo:

This is the mix of a dark discoloured skin patch and a lighter one. You may notice a heavily discoloured skin patch on the body and a slightly discoloured patch right next to it.

5. Universal Vitiligo:

This is a disturbing and rare type of vitiligo. It covers almost 80% of the body.

What Are The Symptoms Of Vitiligo?

1. Loss of skin pigmentation in various parts or one single area of the body. It can be your face, hand or any part of your body.

2. Sudden greying of hair, eyelashes or eyebrows. Loss of pigmentation may be visible on the scalp as well.

3. Discolouration inside the mouth. In some cases, discolouration may be noticed in the genital area. [2]

How Is Vitiligo Diagnosed?

1. The doctor would conduct a physical test to check if you have any discoloured skin patches.

2. Certain blood tests that diagnose the exact skin condition may be conducted.

3. Your doctor may also do a skin biopsy and test a small skin patch from your body.

4. The dermatologist may also conduct the wood lamp test. Here your affected skin will be put under UV light and tested.

back view of woman with vitiligo skin applying cream

What Are The Treatment Options For Vitiligo?

A. Medications

1. Oral Medicines:

There are few antibiotics and steroids that are prescribed by doctors for vitiligo. These will slowly reduce the skin pigmentation and get it back to your normal skin tone.

2. Topical Creams:

If you are at the very first stage of vitiligo, your doctor may recommend some topical creams to slow down the growth and also eventually reduce vitiligo. Corticosteroid topical creams are mostly suggested by the doctor to reduce pigmentation. But this may have some side effects like skin irritation, skin thinning and sudden hair growth.

B. Surgery

1. Skin Grafting:

Skin grafting is a surgical process to remove vitiligo. Your doctor will perform surgery to remove the discoloured skin and replace it with healthy skin from another part of your body. This is an expensive and time taking procedure. Skin grafting may leave you with side effects such as skin infection, permanent scarring etc. [3]

2. Melanocyte Transplant:

Transplanting melanocytes into your skin is a difficult and advanced procedure. The doctor would first remove melanocytes from your normal skin and then cultivate them in a lab. Once the melanocytes are completely ready, they would be transplanted on the affected skin to return the natural shade of your skin.[4]

C. Alternative Methods

1. Depigmentation Therapy:

This is only recommended if the majority of your body is covered with vitiligo. Also, it is considered to be the last option if oral and topical treatments fail to cure vitiligo. Depigmentation does not really reduce the discolouration of your skin, rather it balances the other areas of your skin to match the discoloured skin. [5]

2. UVB Light Therapy:

To remove the discoloured patches, your doctor may suggest you to go under UVB light therapy under professional supervision. In this procedure, your doctor will put the affected skin under UVB light and remove the pigmentation. Luckily, this procedure does not have many side effects.

3. Psoralen & Ultraviolet Therapy (PUVA):

This procedure happens in two parts. First, the doctor would give you a psoralen pill. You can either consume it or apply it to the affected areas of your skin. Next, the doctor will put your affected skin under ultraviolet light. The light would

activate the pill and it will start changing the colour of your discoloured skin. But PUVA therapy has plenty of side effects like nausea, itching and hyperpigmentation.[6]

D. Home Remedies

1. Biloba:

Ginkgo biloba is a herb that is considered to be a possible treatment for vitiligo. Although there is not much evidence available to support the claim, in one study the herb showed some colour regaining results in 10 people. Also, the herb has anti-inflammatory properties. [7]

2. Vitamin E:

Vitamin E oil can be effective for vitiligo. Massaging the discoloured areas of skin with vitamin E oil every day can slowly help it return to your original skin tone.

3. Folic Acid:

Add folic-acid-based food such as spinach, broccoli and whole grains to your regular diet.

Interesting Facts About Vitiligo

1. Stress plays a trigger for vitiligo. Any kind of physical or emotional stress can stimulate vitiligo.

2. Vitiligo tends to appear in the areas where your skin folds.

3. Vitiligo can happen if your skin has too much exposure to sunlight.

4. This is not a painful condition. But skin may feel sore if you have vitiligo. You may get serious sunburns in the affected area.

Is Vitiligo Hereditary?

Vitiligo can be hereditary, however its occurrence needn’t always be genetic in nature. Vitiligo can happen because of various reasons like an autoimmune disorder, genetic inheritance, and neurogenic issues. Studies have shown that 30% of vitiligo patients have a family history of the skin condition. Either the patients’ parents have/had vitiligo or they have close relatives with this condition.

Can Vitiligo Spread To Your Whole Body?

Yes. It can spread all over your body. Initially, vitiligo starts from one particular area of your body like lips, eyes, neck, leg etc. But eventually, it can spread to all parts of your body. Vitiligo usually occurs at the age of 20 to 30 and slowly grows. This can happen irrespective of your race and gender. [8]

Does Vitiligo Spread To Others?

No, vitiligo is not contagious. It is a misconception that vitiligo spreads through physical contact. But, if you have vitiligo, you can be sure that you won’t spread it to others.

Vitiligo Vs Leprosy

Vitiligo and leprosy are two very different skin conditions. Leprosy is a bacterial infection that causes light skin patches on the body. On the other hand, vitiligo is just a condition where the skin loses melanin and gets pigmented. While vitiligo is not contagious at all, leprosy still has a chance of spreading If a person comes in repeated close contact with a leprosy patient.

What Problems Are Associated With Vitiligo?

1. Your skin would lack melanocytes due to which the affected skin would be even more sensitive to sunlight. You may get a sunburn when you go out in the sunlight.

2. Vitiligo can also cause eye related issues. The retinas of your eyes may get affected. It may get inflamed and cause irritation. But there should not be any major vision issues.

3. Vitiligo can be a sign of an underlying autoimmune disease. Also, people who already have an autoimmune disease are more likely to get vitiligo. Hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease and alopecia areata are such autoimmune diseases.

4. A person going through vitiligo may have low esteem as people may pass unpleasant remarks.

Wrapping Up

Vitiligo is a stubborn skin condition and you may find it difficult to deal with. But the only way to handle it is to be consistent with your medication and have a positive attitude. Usually, medicines and topical treatments take time to show results. If your skin condition does not improve even after the medication, talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Keep an open mind while going through the treatment and don’t let anything get to your self-esteem.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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