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Vitiligo - White Patches on the Skin - All About the Skin Disease, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments
Everyone has heard of vitiligo; a skin disease Michael Jackson claimed to have. But what exactly is the condition? Usually diagnosed by a dermatologist, vitiligo is a disease that causes white patches on the skin. The patches appear when melanocytes, the cells responsible for skin pigmentation die, and cannot perform their proper function.
Vitiligo is usually a generic disease, but its onset can be caused by stress, autoimmune or viral causes. The condition is fairly common. It is seen in about 1% of the world population. The disease inflicts people of African descent the most, but lighter skin individuals can also get the vitiligo.
Do you know anyone with vitiligo?
Signs of vitiligo
The sign you'll most notice are white patches across the skin. These patches start off small but gradually increase over time. The patches usually first appear around the nose, mouth, genitals and eyes.
Vitiligo can appear at any age, but it commonly appears between the ages of 20 to 30. Most people who develop the condition are perfectly healthy, though they may have a vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Vitiligo is usually diagnosed by a dermatologist using a Wood's Lamp. A wood's lamp shines a UVA ray on the skin, allowing the doctor to get a good look at the skin. If the condition is present, the skin will shine a yellow, blue or green color. Healthy skin does not change color under a wood's lamp.
Living with Vitiligo
There are several treatment options available for vitiligo. One of these treatments is UVB phototherapy. This treatment can be performed at home or at a clinic, though many patients decided to do it at home. A patient takes a UV lamp and shines it at the affected areas. The length of treatments must be controlled because the skin can burn if it is exposed to the light of the lamp for extended periods. The treatment can be done every day and it takes anywhere from a few weeks to several months to see results, depending on how long the spots have been present on the skin. When combined with supplements, the success rate of this treatment is around 50%.
PUVA phototherapy is similar to a result UV lamp, however, drugs are given to the patient to increase his or her sensitivity to UV lights. Treatment is done at a clinic and it must be done at least twice per week for 6 to 12 months, or perhaps even longer.
Tropical treatments are also available, which can help even out skin tone. This does not replenish lost melenocytes, but rather changes the surrounding skin to match the tone of the affected area. Removing the pigmentation from the skin increases the patient's risk for sunburn, so it is important to use adequate protection if coming in contact with sunlight.