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Vitiligo


With summer coming, many of us will develop a slight tan as we spend more time out of doors. But this can be dreaded by sufferers of vitiligo as it makes their problem stand out even more.

Vitiligo is more common than usually realized, with about one in every 100 people in the UK developing the condition. It can occur at any age. Basically, vitiligo causes pale, white patches to develop on the skin. Sometimes it just affects a very small portion of skin, but others can develop large white patches that eventually can join up with other areas to create dominant white areas. In areas where there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may become pink rather than white. The edges of the patch may be smooth or irregular and can sometimes become inflamed giving a reddish border.

The condition most often affects skin that has been exposed to the sun such as the face, neck and hands. But it can also affect your fingers and wrists, your armpits, groin and even inside your mouth. Sometimes it develops where there are hair roots such as on the head, and the lack of melanin in the skin can turn the hair from that area white or grey.

Generally vitiligo doesn’t really cause any discomfort, but the areas affected can become dry, and occasionally there may be some irritation. The pale areas will be more prone to sunburn.

Vitiligo occurs because of a lack of melanin. Melanin is produced by specialized skin cells called melanocytes which give the skin its colour and helps to offer some protection against sun damage.

It is thought that the condition may be linked to the immune system and nerve endings in the skin but the real causes are not yet clear. There does seem to be an increased risk of developing vitiligo if you have a family history of the condition, or have an overactive thyroid gland or problems with your autoimmune system generally.

There are actually two types of vitiligo, non-segmental and segmental.  Non-segmental means the white patches will appear on both sides of your body symmetrically. This is the most common type of vitiligo. However, there is also segmental vitiligo when the white patches affect just one area of your body.

Whatever type you develop, the bad news is that the white patches are usually permanent although very occasionally it can go away by itself.  At the moment there is no way to reverse the condition or indeed stop it spreading. Most treatment at the moment is based on improving the skin’s appearance.

Coloured creams can be used to camouflage the white patches, and are available to match different natural skin tones. Some people use self tanning creams which can work on the white patches.

The doctor may prescribe topical corticosteroids (creams or ointments that contains steroids) to be applied to be the skin to help stop the spread of patches and may restore some of the original skin colour; and you will also be warned against sunburn. Sunburn can be a real risk if you have vitiligo, because there is not enough melanin in the skin to offer protection.

Sufferers of vitiligo often keep out of the sun because of this risk, and then they are often prescribed additional vitamin D to counteract the lack of sunlight.

There is information available on various health websites. Click here for more information.

Plus there is also a vitiligo society which offers lots of information and support




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