Dispelling myths around vitiligo


Vitiligo is a pigment disorder of the skin that affects close to two per cent of the population worldwide. On World Vitiligo Day observed on June 25, consulatant dermatologist, Healthway Hospital, Anupama Kudchadkar, sheds light on the disorder with NT BUZZ


World Vitiligo Day is observed on June 25 annually, to build global awareness around the pigment disorder of the skin in which there is reduction or loss of melanocytes or inability of melanocytes to produce melanin pigment due to destruction of melanocytes. This results in white patches visible most commonly on the face and arms.

“Vitiligo can develop suddenly or gradually as single or multiple patches on any part of the body at any age. It is most common in the age group between 10 to 30 years and both males and females can be equally affected,” says consulatant dermatologist, Healthway Hospital, Anupama Kudchadkar.

It is estimated that close to 2 per cent of the population are affected by the condition. And June 25 has been chosen as World Vitiligo Day to raise awareness about the ailment, in memorial of artiste late Michael Jackson, who suffered from vitiligo from the early 1980s until his death on June 25, 2009. The first World Vitiligo Day was observed on June 25, 2011.

Diagnosis of vitiligo is mostly done clinically but wood’s lamp or skin biopsy may help in confirming the diagnosis at times, says Kudchadkar, adding that the exact causes for this ailment are unknown. “The most common theory behind developing vitiligo is autoimmunity. In such cases there is an unexplained production of antibodies which are directed against the melanocytes and destroy them thereby stopping the production of melanin. This leads to loss of colour on the affected part of the skin,” she says. Sometimes, she adds, some chemicals present in the skin can also destroy melanocytes causing loss of colour. “In some cases, a genetic predisposition can trigger vitiligo. Diabetics and thyroid disorders can predispose vitiligo. Some vitamins and mineral deficiencies, stress, injuries and burns can also initiate the process,” she says.

Vitiligo does not affect the person internally except for cosmetic disfigurement which can cause tremendous psychological and mental stress and makes it difficult for the people having vitiligo to face the society. “There are misconceptions in the society that vitiligo is a contagious disease and can spread by touching. Which is not at all true,” says Kudchadkar. “Patients with excessive vitiligo should apply a good amount of sunscreen before going out in the sun to protect their skin from sunburn, especially on the affected parts which are exposed to the sun.”

The aim of treatment is to prevent and control the spread of the disease and to re-pigment the skin which has lost its colour. The treatment is based depending on the extent of involvement of the skin and the patient’s general condition. In addition, cosmetic camouflage is advised to reduce the social problems faced by the patients.” Various treatments used are medical treatments in the form of topical therapy (applications of various creams) systemic drugs (oral) to suppress autoimmunity and to stimulate production of skin colour. Ultraviolet light therapy is recommended over the affected parts with the help of UVA and UVB light lamps for specific time periods,” she says. Non responding areas of vitiligo which are stable may be offered various kinds of surgical treatments in the form of skin grafts, or melanocyte transfer procedures. “Micro pigmentation/tattooing are cosmetic camouflage and can help cover white patches. This improves patient’s confidence and social acceptance,” states Kudchadkar.

But patients of vitiligo can have a perfectly normal social life. They can marry, have children and need not abstain from any activities which a normal person can do, says Kudchadkar. “People with vitiligo should not be discriminated against, in the society. It is not an infectious disease and cannot be transmitted. Society should look at a person with vitiligo with love and care and treat them as any other person living in the society,” she says, adding that a person having vitiligo can and should move amidst society with the same pride and dignity as everyone without any embarrassment and mental stress. “This can bring about awareness in the society that it is just a condition where the colour of the skin is lost and nothing else,” she says.