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Skin & Hair

Vitiligo: Fighting The Stigma Around This Skin Condition

Dr. Pragnya Rao

This non-life-threatening disease is not contagious but stands out for its psychosocial impacts.

Vitiligo is an acquired skin condition that occurs due to destruction of melanin-producing cells, leading to depigmented, white patches and spots on the skin. The patches often begin to appear on areas exposed to the sun, such as skin over hands and legs, but can also appear on the inside of the mouth, nostrils, on the genitals, etc. It is an autoimmune disorder and does not spread by touch. 

What causes vitiligo and who is at risk?

The exact cause of vitiligo is still unknown. With recent advances in research, there may be multiple factors involved in the development of vitiligo- environmental, genetic factors, etc.  Due to genetic predilection, people with family history vitiligo may be at risk of developing it. This skin condition is often associated with other autoimmune disorders such as scleroderma, lupus, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, etc. 

How is it diagnosed?

Vitiligo is often diagnosed when there are self-reported white patches on the skin or early greying of the hair. Your doctor may ask questions about your family history, medical history and if you have any other autoimmune disorder. The skin is examined under an ultraviolet lamp to identify this skin condition. Skin biopsies may also be taken to help arrive at the diagnosis

Is there no cure for Vitiligo?

Vitiligo can be treated, but not cured. The white spots are often treated with topical steroids and oral medication is also given in order to stop the spots from becoming bigger or spreading to other areas. Recent advancements in medicine and technology have made it possible to use treatment options like ultraviolet light (PUVA therapy), laser treatment, surgical grafting, micro pigmentation, etc to treat vitiligo. Those who have vitiligo are often advised to use sunscreen often, avoid harsh cosmetics and regularly follow-up with their doctor as it requires long term treatment. 

It is not contagious and is not life-threatening

It does not spread by touch, shaking hands or kissing. A person with vitiligo can lead a normal, healthy life just as anybody else. Due to the distinctive nature of this skin condition, vitiligo is associated with a lot of stigmatization. Ancient descriptions of vitiligo can be found dating back to 1500 BC and was often associated with leprosy and was believed to be a God’s curse. Even today, people with pigmentation disorders like vitiligo are often given a stink eye due to the presence of unfair expectations of ideal skin tone in our society. This social stigma is an accomplice to the causation of unwarranted psychological effects of having the disease- anxiety, self-esteem issues, emotional burdens and depression among others. 

People dealing with this skin condition have often suffered from problems with employment, marriage and a chance at a normal life. This World Vitiligo Day which falls on June 25, we must take a step towards understanding the nature of this disease so we can learn and encourage others to practise showing mutual respect and camaraderie to those who have vitiligo and not play any part in ostracizing or discriminating them

It is the need of the hour during the pandemic to extend our help to people who may be in need of medical help. If you know someone from your family who has white spots on their skin/other skin issues and is reluctant to visit a hospital due to the hush-hush around such pigmented disorders, you can always help them with a recommendation to reach out to skin specialists on MFine at the comfort of their home. #AbHarGharMeinDoctor

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