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Everything You Should Know about Vitiligo; Causes, Treatment and Management

Winnie Harlow (Photo: Health Insight)

by Imoh Udoka

Globally, the 25th of June is observed as World Vitiligo Day. This is an initiative aimed to build global awareness about Vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a loss of colour in the skin creating a variety of patterns on the skin from loss of pigment. It is often called a disease instead of a disorder and that can have a significant negative social and/or psychological impact on patients due to the numerous misconceptions still present in large parts of the world. According to reports, Vitiligo occurs in 1-2% of the population worldwide.


What you should know about Vitiligo

It is a skin disorder that causes loss of skin colour in patches. This disorder occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin (a pigment that gives skin colour).

It can affect any part of the body even the hair and inside nostrils and mouth. It can affect both dark skin and light skin persons. Vitiligo is commonly observed in persons aged 10-30 years, but the average year of onset is 20 years. It is not contagious and it is not life-threatening.


What Causes it?

It is unclear exactly what causes it or what causes the pigments to function abnormally or die. It causes might be related to family history (hereditary). An immune disorder that occurs like severe sunburn, skin trauma, negative cosmetic effects and stress.


Treatment and Management

Can it be treated? Yes, Vitiligo can be treated. Various types of medications, phototherapy, laser therapy and surgical therapy can be used to restore colour to the affected skin. In patients with lighter skin, no intervention may be needed. Diligent sun protection may be the best strategy to avoid the surrounding normal skin from becoming tanner and making it more obvious.

When therapy is needed, topical steroids, narrow-band ultraviolet (UV)-B phototherapy, topical calcineurin inhibitors are widely used and are now considered the mainstays of treatment. Treatment must be individualized and patients should be aware of the risks associated with the therapy.

However, no single therapy for vitiligo produces predictably good results in all patients and the response to therapy is highly variable. And it is also important to note that non-sufferers should avoid the stigmatization vitiligo sufferers and show them, love!



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