Frequently Asked Questions about Vitiligo

What is Vitiligo?

When the pigment (melanin) forming cells (melanocytes) in the skin are destroyed without any obvious cause, that part of the skin appears white in colour. This is known as Vitiligo.

Can every white patch be that of Vitiligo?

No, it is essential to understand that white patches in the skin (leucoderma) may be due to various causes like birth marks, post burns, due to some chemicals etc. Vitiligo is just one of the types of white patches which occur without obvious cause.

What is the difference between Vitiligo and leprosy?

These two conditions are entirely different from each other. Leprosy is an infection caused by a bacteria in which patient develops light coloured patches with loss of sensation and loss of hair over these patches. Vitiligo on the other hand occurs because of loss of melanin pigment from the skin.

What is the cause of Vitiligo?

The precise cause of Vitiligo is not yet known. However many scientists and researchers believe that autoimmunity (self destruction of melanocytes) is a possible cause. Others relate the onset of Vitiligo to emotional trauma due to accident, death, divorce etc.

What are the symptoms of Vitiligo?

Vitiligo presents with white patches over certain parts of body e.g. face forearms, hands, feet, lips etc. These patches are usually asymptomatic although some patients may experience itching, burning and redness on sun exposure.

Is Vitiligo at all contagious?

No. Because if it was so then many more people in the world including the treating doctors and family members of Vitiligo patients would have developed Vitiligo.

Who can be affected by Vitiligo?

Almost anybody can be affected by Vitiligo irrespective of age, sex and race. About 1 - 2% population in the world has this condition.

Is Vitiligo an inherited condition?

It is estimated that approximately 5 - 30% of Vitiligo patients give a family history of Vitiligo. Therefore it is difficult to say if Vitiligo is truly an inherited condition.

Are there any other conditions related to Vitiligo?

Vitiligo itself does not appear to lead to other conditions. However, some persons may have other autoimmune conditions like Thyroid disorders, Diabetes mellitus, pernicious anemia, Alopecia areata etc.

Can hair be affected by Vitiligo?

Yes. Sometimes the hair overlying the Vitiligo patches may lose their pigment and thus may turn white.

Are diet and Vitiligo related?

Vitiligo does not occur due to any dietary deficiency. There is no scientific basis to prove that any specific type of food causes or worsens Vitiligo.

How is Vitiligo diagnosed?

Diagnosis is most often based on the finding of milky white patches on the skin on clinical examination. Also, examination of these white patches under a special ‘Wood's lamp’ and biopsy can further confirm the diagnosis.

Is it advisable for a person with Vitiligo to marry?

There is no reason not to marry a person with Vitiligo. It is not infectious at all. Again, please remember that Vitiligo is not a disease but a cosmetic problem only, and it is we who have to remove the stigma attached to it from our minds.

How does Vitiligo develop?

The course and severity of Vitiligo differs from person to person. In many individuals it appears as one to few white patches. The person may go on to develop new patches or patches may increase in size. On other occasions the patches may regress or disappear spontaneously.

Is there any treatment available for Vitiligo?

Currently there are various treatment options available. In the past few years many new treatments have been developed that are quite promising.

How long does it take to treat Vitiligo?

It is difficult to state definitely, as each patient shows variable response at a variable pace. The duration of treatment ranges between 6 months to many years.

What are the treatment options available?

Presently there are number of treatment options available as compared to the past PUVA therapy, steroid creams, relatively newer modalities of treatment are narrow brand UVB, skin grafting, and pigment transplantation.

What is PUVA therapy?

This is an ancient therapy which requires ingestion or topical applications of psoralens followed by exposure to ultraviolet A light either natural (sunlight) or artificial (UVA chambers) after two hours. This needs to be repeated three days (alternate days) in a week.

Who can avail PUVA therapy?

Except pregnant & nursing mothers and children below 10 years of age, all those persons with Vitiligo involving more than 20% of body surface area can be given this therapy.

How does PUVA work?

The ingested or topically applied psoralen reaches the melanocytes in the hair bulb and margins of Vitiligo patch. On exposure the Ultraviolet A light, a complex photo-biochemical reaction occurs which stimulates colour (melanin) production.

What is narrow band UVB?

This relatively recent therapy involves exposure of the Vitiligo patches to ultraviolet B rays of specific wavelength of 311 - 313 mm.

What are the advantages of narrow band UVB?

This therapy does not require ingestion or topical application of psoralens, hence there are very few side effects. Furthermore it can be safely used in pregnancy and in children below 10 years of age.

What is skin grafting?

This treatment option is used for patients with stable (non-progressing) Vitiligo and those who have a limited distribution. This surgery involves removal of patient's normally pigmented skin and grafting it onto the depigmented areas.

Are there any areas of Vitiligo that are harder to treat?

It has been observed that fingers, toes, palmar and plantar areas are more difficult to treat than other areas. Also Vitiligo patches with overlying white hair are of concern in the treatment.

Are there any cosmetics available to cover-up Vitiligo spots?

Nowadays, a number of camouflage creams are available which can be selected and applied over Vitiligo patches to match the patient's natural skin colour as closely as possible. However these creams are of temporary nature, their benefit ranging from few hours to few days.