What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment. The patches of skin affected become white. Often the patches begin on areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. Vitiligo develops when cells called melanocytes (meh-lan-o-sites) die. These cells give our skin and hair color. Scientists do not completely understand why these cells die. One type of vitiligo, non-segmental vitiligo, may be an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease develops when the body mistakes a part of itself as foreign. If the body mistakes melanocytes as foreigners, it will attack and kill these cells. Studies suggest that the other type of vitiligo, segmental vitiligo, has a different cause. This type seems to develop when something in the body’s nervous system goes awry.
A few people say that the skin affected by vitiligo itches or feels painful. Living with vitiligo can cause other symptoms, such as low self-esteem and depression that is hard to beat. This can happen regardless of the amount of color loss or type of vitiligo.
Treatments for Vitiligo
Patches of skin that are lighter in color are more susceptible to sunburns and blistering. Use sunscreen to help prevent skin damage.
Like psoriasis and eczema, scientists theorize that vitiligo may be caused by your own immune system. Pigment cells in your skin produce melanin, the substance responsible for your own unique and individual skin tone. When these cells are attacked and destroyed by the body’s own defense system, they stop producing melanin, resulting in the skin becoming lighter, or even completely white!
Drugs that suppress your immune system can have dangerous side-effects, and you can’t use them if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
In this technique, your doctor uses a special surgical instrument to implant pigment into your skin. It’s most effective in and around the lips in people with darker complexions.
In this procedure, your doctor creates blisters on your pigmented skin, usually with suction. He or she then removes the tops of the blisters and transplants them to an area of discolored skin.
Possible risks include scarring, a cobblestone appearance and failure of the area to recolor. And the skin damage caused by suctioning may trigger another patch of vitiligo.
Nobody really knows for sure how it works, but nobody is really sure what causes vitiligo either, although there are many theories. Phototherapy is one of the most common and successful vitiligo treatments, resulting in repigmentation of the pale skin patches by stimulating neighboring pigmentation cells (melanocytes) into producing skin color again. These neighboring cells are often located towards the edges of the affected areas, near the base of hair follicles, or possibly within the patch itself. Phototherapy appears to work by irritating the skin into working properly again.
When prescribing phototherapy treatment, doctors may select either Ultraviolet A (UVA) light used in combination with the drug psoralen, or narrowband Ultraviolet B (nbUVB) light alone.
Generally, patients who respond to narrowband UVB phototherapy can obtain over 90% repigmentation within a year – and without any of the adverse side effects that accompany the use of psoralens!
If your vitiligo is causing depression and anxiety, seek help by talking to a psychologist or psychiatrist.