Vitiligo

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Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. The extent and rate of color loss from vitiligo is unpredictable. It can affect the skin on any part of your body. It may also affect hair, the inside of the mouth and even the eyes.

Symptoms

Vitiligo signs include:

  • Skin discoloration
  • Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard (usually before age 35)
  • Loss of color in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose (mucous membranes)
  • Loss of or change in color of the inner layer of the eyeball (retina)
  • Discolored patches around the armpits, navel, genitals and rectum

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if areas of your skin, hair or eyes lose coloring. Vitiligo has no cure. But treatment may help to stop or slow the discoloring process and return some color to your skin.

Causes

  • A disorder in which your immune system attacks and destroys the melanocytes in the skin
  • Family history (heredity)
  • A trigger event, such as sunburn, stress or exposure to industrial chemicals

Complications

People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of:

  • Social or psychological distress
  • Sunburn and skin cancer
  • Eye problems, such as inflammation of the iris (iritis)
  • Hearing loss
  • Side effects due to treatment, such as dry skin and itching

Tests and diagnosis

Medical history and exam

If your doctor suspects you have vitiligo, he or she will ask about your medical history, examine you and try to rule out other medical problems, such as dermatitis or psoriasis. He or she may use a special lamp to shine ultraviolet light onto the skin to determine whether you have vitiligo.

Skin biopsy and blood draw

In addition to gathering your personal and family medical history and examining your skin, your doctor may:

  • Take a small sample (biopsy) of the affected skin
  • Draw blood for lab tests

Other exams

Your doctor may recommend that you see an eye specialist (ophthalmologist), who may check for inflammation in your eye (uveitis). Your doctor may also suggest that you see a hearing specialist (audiologist) to undergo a hearing evaluation because people with vitiligo may have an increased risk of hearing loss.

Treatments and drugs

Many treatments are available to help restore skin color or even out skin tone. Results vary and are unpredictable. Some treatments have serious side effects. So your doctor may suggest that you first try improving the appearance of your skin by applying self-tanning products or makeup.

Medications

No drug can stop the process of vitiligo — the loss of pigment cells (melanocytes). But some drugs, used alone or with light therapy, can help improve your skin’s appearance.

Creams that control inflammation. A topical corticosteroid may help return color to (repigment) your skin, particularly if you start using it early in the disease.A form of vitamin D. Topical calcipotriene is a cream that can be used with corticosteroids or ultraviolet light. Possible sideffects include dry skin, rash and itching.

Medications that affect the immune system. Ointments containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus (calcineurin inhibitors) may be effective for people with small areas of depigmentation, especially on the face and neck.

Combined medication and light therapy. This treatment combines a drug called psoralen with light therapy (photochemotherapy) to return color to the light patches.

Light therapy. This treatment uses narrow band UVB light.

Laser therapy. This procedure brings color back to patches of light skin by treating them with an excimer laser, which uses a specific wavelength of UVB light

Removing the remaining color (depigmentation)

Surgery

Skin grafting.

Blister grafting.

Tattooing (micropigmentation)

Lifestyle and home remedies

Protect your skin from the sun and artificial sources of UV light

Conceal affected skin.

Don’t get a tattoo

 

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