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Common Skin Problems – Vitiligo

Vitiligo or leucoderma is a chronic pigmentation disorder. It is a skin condition in which melanocytes in the skin are destroyed. As a result of this, white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body. There is some substantiation to prove that it is caused by a combination of auto-immune, genetic, and environmental factors.

Causes of Vitiligo

Though the precise cause of vitiligo is complicated and not fully understood, vitiligo is associated with autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Doctors and researchers offer several different theories. There is strong evidence to suggest that that people suffering from vitiligo inherit a group of three genes that make them susceptible to de-pigmentation. The most widely accepted theory is that this happens because vitiligo is an autoimmune disease – a disease in which a person’s immune system reacts against the body’s own organs or tissues.

Our bodies produce proteins called cytokines; these change their pigment producing cells and kill them in the process. Another theory is that melanocytes destroy themselves. Lastly, some folks have reported that a single event such as sunburn or emotional distress triggered vitiligo. However, these events are not established – at lease not scientifically – as causes of vitiligo.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

Half the people suffering from vitiligo develop patches of de-pigmented skin appearing on extremities before their 20s. These patches could either grow or remain constant in size. They often occur symmetrically across both sides of the body. Over time, the location of vitiligo affected skin changes, with some patches re-pigmenting and others getting affected.

Sometimes mild trauma to an area of skin seems to produce new patches – for instance, around the wrists. Vitiligo may even be caused by stress, which affects the immune system. On the head vitiligo can sometimes, affect the color of the hair; this leaves white patches or streaks. Likewise, the condition can affect facial and body hair.

Treatment of Vitiligo

The main objective of treating vitiligo is to alter appearance. There are several ways to improve the appearance of vitiligo without addressing its underlying cause. Then again, therapy takes a long time. Normally, it has to be continued for 6 – 18 months. Choice of therapy varies with the number of white patches; their location, sizes, and how extensive they are. A lot also depends on your preference, in terms of treatment. Modern treatment options for vitiligo include medical, surgical, and adjunctive therapies. However, therapies can be used along with surgical or medical treatments. These are some of the most commonly used ones:

Topical steroid therapy: Here steroid creams are helpful in re-pigmenting white patches, especially if they are applied in the initial stages of the disease.

Psoralen photochemotherapy: This also called psoralen and ultraviolet A therapy, or PUVA therapy. It is perhaps the most effective treatment for vitiligo today. But it is a lengthy process, and you must be careful to avoid side effects that can sometimes be severe.

Depigmentation: This involves fading the rest of the body skin to match the already white. For people suffering from vitiligo on more than 50% of their bodies, depigmentation might be the best option.