What Is Vitiligo and Why Do I Have It?

If you have vitiligo, patches of your skin will lose their pigmentation, and those spots will look white. It can be almost traumatic to notice such splotches. However, you should know that you can take action against this disorder, and you can live a happy life for as long as you have it.

What is Vitiligo and what causes it?

The Effects of Vitiligo

The white spots associated with vitiligo might stay within a small region of your body, or they might show up all over. It might take years for those white areas to get bigger, or they could grow at a rapid rate.

Generally speaking, the darker a person's skin, the more noticeable those light patches are. Such white areas can appear anywhere on the body. Even so, depigmented spots are most commonly found on parts, such as the hands and face, that are rarely covered by clothing.

In addition, this condition can lead to premature graying or sections of white hair. Vitiligo can even bring about discolored eyes and whiteness inside the mouth.

Approximately 50 percent of vitiligo patients first notice the effects of the disease when they're children or teenagers. Many others show the initial signs of vitiligo in their 20s. Nevertheless, a person of any age can come down with this condition.

What Causes Vitiligo?

Those white spots are showing up because the skin's melanocytes, which are the cells responsible for the color of the skin, have been eradicated in places.

Melanocytes generate the pigment melanin in the epidermis, which is the thinnest and outermost of the skin's three layers. Where there are no melanocytes, there is no melanin and thus no skin coloring.

What is responsible for the loss of melanocytes? Medical experts aren't entirely sure. Most likely, vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder. That means the immune system misidentifies melanocytes as hostile foreign invaders and launches attacks on them.

In some people, it appears that other medical issues, particularly other autoimmune diseases, trigger cases of vitiligo. Hyperthyroidism is an example. Be aware, too, that this disorder may be genetic. Certain families have more cases of vitiligo than others.

In short, there's nothing you can do to prevent the onslaught of vitiligo or avoid vitiligo causes.

Vitiligo Treatment and Research

Vitiligo doesn't cause pain or lead to any other significant medical problems, and it isn't contagious. That notwithstanding, many people are understandably upset to see how this disorder changes their appearance. Fortunately, there are treatments available that can minimize the effects of this condition. They include oral medications, topical agents, light therapy, and surgical skin grafts. Special makeup techniques can be helpful as well.

Some people who have vitiligo may benefit from seeing a counselor or joining a support group. That's because this disorder can harm a person's self-confidence and self-esteem. Discussing those feelings with a professional may allow a patient to cope more effectively. Likewise, drawing strength from others who are dealing with the same issues can put those problems into better perspective.

Vitiligo Research Study in San Diego at CDCRI

At the moment, a vitiligo research study is going on at San Diego's California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute. This study is focusing on patients who suffer from facial vitiligo. If you'd like to participate in this research project or learn more about vitiligo treatments, please contact the Institute at your earliest convenience. Give us a call at (760) 203-3839.