Vitiligo is a non-life-threatening skin condition which causes patches of skin to lose color. It can also cause loss of pigmentation of the hair, mouth, and the eyes. Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin (pigment) die.
Vitiligo is caused by the death of melanocytes (pigment cells). The cause is unknown, but it has been linked to autoimmune diseases. Family history can also be a factor along with a trigger event such as sun exposure, stress, or exposure to industrial chemicals. Vitiligo can happen at any age but is most common before the age of 20.
Vitiligo is seen almost equally in men and women, and usually appears before twenty years of age. Vitiligo is hereditary in some instances. A family history of vitiligo, or a personal or family history of other autoimmune diseases including certain thyroid diseases, anemias, or hair loss, also increase a person's risk of developing vitiligo.
People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of social or psychological distress, sunburn and skin cancer, eye problems, such as inflammation of the iris (iritis), hearing loss, and side effects due to treatment, such as dry skin and itching.
The main symptom of vitiligo is simply the depigmentation of the skin. Commonly, areas of increased movement or friction, like around the eyes and mouth, or on the hands are affected. Some people may experience slight burning or itching of the skin as well.
Diagnosis is made by examination of the skin, and asking questions about family history. In some cases, blood tests and/or a skin biopsy may be necessary to diagnose vitiligo. Your doctor may further recommend seeing an eye specialist and a hearing specialist.
American Academy of Dermatology