What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo (leukoderma) is a non-contagious, genetic, skin disorder in which the skin loses it’s pigment in patches or spots because of a loss of melanocytes (the skin’s pigment cells). Where vitiligo affects the scalp or other hair bearing regions of the body the hair will also lose its pigment leading to white streaks. There are two common theories on what happens in the body. One theory is that the immune system for some reason attacks and destroys the melanocytes. The other theory is that for some reason the melanocytes in a particular region turn on each other and destroy themselves.
Vitiligo is neither medically dangerous nor physically painful, though the affected person can suffer from emotional or social trauma from the stigma attached to how it changes their appearance. One thing that a person affected by vitiligo should keep in mind is that prolonged exposure to sunlight may burn the affected areas which can lead to a worsening of the condition. It is recommended that if long exposure to the sun is expected that the affected areas should be covered or protected by UV blocking lotions (SPF 30 or above), long pants, long sleeve shirts and/or wide brimmed hats. This protection will also help to minimize the noticeable difference in color between the vitiligo affected and not affected portions of the skin.
Vitiligo affects 1 to 2% of the population both male and female of any race. Research has found that 50% of cases have developed between the ages of 10 and 30, and 95% of cases occur before age 40.
What causes vitiligo?
Vitiligo is associated with a malfunction of the body’s immune system. Doctors are unsure exactly what is the root cause of the disorder other than heredity. Doctors have, however, linked certain events with the onset of vitiliginous patches such as a bad sunburn, trauma to the skin through excessive rubbing, or very stressful life situations.
Is there a cure for vitiligo?
Although vitiligo is a treatable condition there is no cure. Patients can undergo many different vitiligo treatments to regain pigment in the affected areas, but repigmentation may not be 100% or permanent.
What are the available vitiligo treatments?
Phototherapy is the use of specific segments of the ultraviolet light spectrum to treat psoriasis, vitiligo, and other skin disorders. The skin is exposed to the light delivered by a phototherapy unit. Hand-held and table-top phototherapy units are used for spot treatment of skin areas or full cabinet units are used for patients requiring full body treatment. Exposure to the specialized light reduces or eliminates the symptoms of the skin disease.
There are many sources of information available on the internet and from your physician about vitiligo treatment and we encourage you to do your research. Here we are providing just a sampling of the vitiligo treatments that offer you less risk as the patient. Please consult your dermatologist to find a treatment regimen that is right for you.
Depending on the severity of the affectation your dermatologist may prescribe protocols involving:
- Narrow Band UVB
- Combination UVA and Broad Band UVB
- Psoralen baths or soaks plus UVA
- Psoralen lotion plus Ultraviolet A
- Systemic Psoralen plus UVA
The Daavlin Company is a manufacturer of phototherapy equipment in UVA, Narrow Band UVB and Broad Band UVB and combinations of these. Information is available for patients looking to acquire a unit for home use and also for dermatologists seeking to buy for their clinic environment.
What support organizations are available?
National Vitiligo Foundation
700 Olympic Plaza Circle
Tyler, TX 75701
Phone: (903) 595-3713
Fax: (903) 593-1545
The Vitiligo Society
125 Kennington Road
London SE11 6SF
Phone: 0800 018 2631 (toll free from within the UK)
Vitiligo Support International
P.O. Box 4008
Valley Village, CA 91617-0008
Phone: (818) 752-9002
(preferred and generally the FASTEST way to get a response)
Where can I find more information?
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
NIAMS/National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
American Academy of Dermatology
P.O. Box 4014
Shaumburg, IL 60168-4014
Phone: 847-330-0230 or 888-462-DERM (3376) (free of charge)
A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the
National Institutes of Health
U.S. National Library of Medicine
8600 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20894
Toll Free: (888) FIND-NLM (888) 346-3656
Phone: (301) 594-5983 (local and international calls)
Fax: (301) 402-1384
ILL Fax: (301) 496-2809
Zanolli, Michael, et al. Phototherapy Treatment Protocols for psoriasis and ohter phothterapy responsive dermatoses, Second Edition. Taylor & Francis Group, 2005.
“What is Vitiligo?” Vitligo Support International, 2005. www.vitiligosupoprt.com/whatis.cfm
“vitiligo”. Answers.com. www.answers.com/topic/vitiligo