In medical terms, Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder that leads to appearance of white spots on the skin. It’s a long-term problem in which growing patches of skin loses their color that can affect to any age group or gender at any point of time during their life span.
White patches appears due to melanocytes, which dies off within the skin. Melanocytes are the cells, which is responsible for generating the skin pigmentation, melanin that gives skin its color and protects it from the harmful UV Rays.
Vitiligo signs may vary between each individual, which may affect the eyes, inside of mouth, or hairs. It has been found in most of the cases that Vitiligo remains discolored for the rest of the affected individual life, which as per global estimate has affected approx. 0.5 to 2% of total population so far.
Appearance of flat white spots or patches on the skin is the most common symptom of Vitiligo which gets more prominent and noticeable in an area that tends to be more exposed to the sun light.
The very initial sing of Vitiligo is that it starts as a small spot, which is bit, paler than the rest of the skin however it turns white as the time passes by. These patches/white spots are very uneven in shape. Some time edges of white spots may become little inflamed with a slight red tone and sometime it might result in itchiness.
Though in general, Vitiligo does not causes any discomfort, irritation, soreness, or dryness in the skin.
The nature of Vitiligo is such that its very difficult to assess whether the patches will spread further or if yes then where and in what quantum. Vitiligo white spots may spread within a week or month or a year and can stay stagnant for longer time.
If some one is having white patches on the skin, which are symmetrical, then it’s a sign of non-segmental Vitiligo where increase of white patches will be slower if it is only one side / area of the body, while others gets developed in large white patches that join together and affect larger areas of skin. The lighter patches tend to be more visible in people with dark or tanned skin.
Till date as per research, exact reason of Vitiligo is unclear however there are many factors, which may contribute, are:-
Autoimmune disorder where immune system becomes overactive and destroys the melanocytes.
Genetic oxidative stress imbalance
Due to Stressful event
Skin damage due to critical sunburn or cut
Skin exposure to some harmful chemical.
Heredity since it runs in families
Non-segmental Vitiligo: This is the common type of Vitiligo, which accounts up to 90 percent of cases. White patches appear uniformly on both sides of the body. In this case affected area is commonly exposed to the sun i.e. face, neck or hands.
Segmental Vitiligo: This type of Vitiligo increases more rapidly however it is constant, stable and less erratic in nature than non-segmental Vitiligo. This is not very common hence only 8-10% people having Vitiligo have been found such type, which is also non-symmetrical.
Vitiligo is a health issue, which needs to be treated as per, correct medical procedure which can help decrease the visibility of the condition:-
By applying sunscreen: Dermatology strongly recommends application of suitable sunscreen since lighter patches of skin are sensitive to sunlight, which can burn easily.
UVB light Phototherapy: UVB light phototherapy is another most effective treatment to control Vitiligo. It can also be done at home which requires a small lamp, which is also very effective, however if this treatment is performed in a clinic then it may take up to 2 to 3 visits a week & time for treatment shall be longer.
UVB phototherapy treatment combined with other effective treatments can give positive effect on Vitiligo though the results cannot be predictable.
Depigmentation: Depigmentation could be one of the options to treat Vitiligo if the affected area is widespread or covering greater than 50% of the body as it reduces the skin color in unaffected parts to match the whiter areas.
Applying strong topical lotions or ointments on the affected area such as monobenzone, mequinol, or hydroquinone can perform this treatment. This can take approximately 12 to 14 months depending on factors such as the depth of the original skin tone.
Topical Corticosteroids: Topical corticosteroid ointment is cream that contains steroids. Few researches have concluded that application of topical corticosteroids on the white patches can stop the spread whereas some of them have also reported that it completely restores the original skin color.
Dermatologist strongly warns not using this cream on the face. Besides this, if patient sees some improvement after a month then it should be stopped for few weeks and then can be continued.
Calcipotriene: This is basically a form of vitamin D that is used as a topical ointment. Dermatologist often combine this with corticosteroids or light treatment for effective results however there are some side effects of it i.e. rashes, dry skin, and itching.
Most of the time, it has been observed that Vitiligo does not develop into other diseases however affected people may experience:
Sunburn which could be painful
Could be a hearing loss to some extent
Vision changes or production of some tear.