By Dr. Rohit Batra
Vitiligo also called as leucoderma’ is an autoimmune disorder wherein the immune system of the body attacks the healthy cells and in turn starts affecting the body. The condition is characterized by white patches on the skin that develops as a result of melanocytes within the skin. These are the cells that are responsible for the skin pigment melanin that gives color to your skin. The white patches appear when the melanocytes die off. The condition is also termed as Vitiligo or Leucoderma or White Leprosy.
Vitiligo: What are the symptoms?
- The appearance of pale/white spots, patchy areas of depigmented skin, generally in the area that is exposed to the sun
- If a person already has white pigmentation and in case he gets hurt and develops similar white patches on the skin, it s time to visit a doctor
- The patches are generally painless and don t cause itching or sensitivity, etc. However, when exposed to excessive heat or sweating, they may cause irritation and burning sensation
- The lesions are prominent on the face, hands, and wrist.
It is important to understand that vitiligo is not cancer and it is not life-threatening. The condition is nowhere associated with Leprosy. Some people also consider this as psoriasis which is characterized by patches on the skin. However, these patches are not white and are generally red, raised and inflamed spots on the skin. It is important to understand that Vitiligo doesn t affect a person s ability to perform day-to-day activities or innate talent. It is people s perception of the condition that has brought a social stigma to this problem.
Debunking The Myth- Vitiligo is Not Contagious
Many people think that vitiligo is contagious and spread through physical contact, kissing, or sexual intimacy which is not true! To understand this, one has to know the actual cause of vitiligo. Since the main cause of vitiligo is the breakdown of melanocytes which are responsible for the production of melanin in addition to the combination of factors such as autoimmune system, genetics, and environment, etc., it doesn t spread from one person to the other until it is genetic.
Vitiligo – Know the Causes
The actual cause of vitiligo is unknown. There are various reasons and theories associated with the disease. Here is a list of few factors that might cause vitiligo.
- Genetics: Children whose parents already have vitiligo are vulnerable to the disease
- Chronic Infection: In children, the condition might arise due to chronic infections like throat infection, stomach infection or anemia that require the intake of antibiotics that affect the immunity and result in an autoimmune disorder
- Autoimmune disorder: In adults, the autoimmune disorder may result in thyroid which causes white patches
- Alopecia Areata: An autoimmune disorder, alopecia also puts you at risk of developing white patches on the skin.
- Halo Nevus: Also known as Leukoderma, it causes a halo around the mole developed on the skin starting from one part of the body it can spread out to other parts as well.
- Chemical Leucoderma: It is mainly caused due to the chemicals e.g. Monobenzyl Esters of Hydroquinone which is found in beauty products like Bindis. Footwear made up of poor quality plastic may also result in white patches on the skin.
- Chemical Exposure: Excessive exposure to chemicals such as rubber, plastic, etc. makes people vulnerable to vitiligo. Those who ve undergone chemotherapy may also develop white patches over the period of time.
Generally, the diseases that are caused due to bacteria or viruses are contagious and spreads through physical contact or air transmission but this is not the case with Vitiligo. It is not infectious or contagious and hence, cannot pass on from one person to the other through touch, blood, sexual intercourse, inhalation, saliva, or sharing of private things like towels, or using the same glass for drinking water.
- Vitiligo does not aggravate by consuming milk, sour foods, and citrus fruits like lemons, lime, etc. or by drinking milk after having fish. Modern science totally negates this general perception
- If you have white patches, try to avoid using chemical rich beauty products such as deodorants, perfumes, hair dye, etc. The white patches spread by high chemical exposure.
Vitiligo – Treatments
There is a whole new list of new techniques and therapies that offer positive results in the treatment. The latest treatment options comprising of new medicines and surgical procedures have made Vitiligo a more treatable condition. A patient should visit a Vitiligo specialist as early as possible and should not indulge in home remedies. Numerous patients have been treated with both medical and surgical treatments and depending upon the site and extent. There is an array of treatment options to help people regain their lost color and confidence.
- Suction Blister Epidermal Grafting: The technique is used to treat a small part of the body of the person affected by vitiligo. With the use of vacuum, the skin is divided into two equal parts one with the white patches & the other normal skin. The skin with the color pigment is placed over the white patches. The melanocytes are responsible for bringing out the color of the skin.
- Melanocyte Epidermal Cell Suspensions: In this procedure, the white patches are covered without any cut. By taking out the skin pigment from the normal part of the body is taken out and converted into a liquid form which is then inserted into the area of the skin with white patches.
- Melanocyte Culture: After conducting a skin biopsy, a small part of the skin is cultured in a specialized lab which is then grafted on the affected area.
- Platelet Rich Plasma: It is one of the most popular treatments these days. After extracting plasma from the blood, it is treated and injected in the area with white patches. Plasma has stem cells that help in developing new cells in the body. This technique is natural and does not have any side-effects.
Vitiligo – Points to Remember
- Blood Test is Necessary: During these treatments, the doctors insist on a blood test in order to monitor if the procedure is affecting the health of the patient in any way. Are there any side effects or health complications? Dermatologists suggest that a person undergoing the treatment should get his blood test done once in a month.
- In case the person s body is 60% affected with white patches, it is less likely to achieve the normal skin color and hence, the entire body of the patient is turned to white. This is usually done using Monobenzyl Esters of Hydroquinone.
- In case the white patches vanish away and don t come back even after 1.5 years, the person can be assured that the problem has been solved.
Awareness of the issue and the right knowledge on various aspects of Vitiligo is important. Vitiligo is a skin disease and does not affect the physical or mental ability of the person.
(The author is a Dermatologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)