Do you know Vitiligo

What is Vitiligo?

It is estimated that the pigment disorder affects around one percent of the world's population and can affect people of any skin color. Vitiligo is one of the most common pigment disorders. It can affect both men and women of all ages, especially between the ages of ten and thirty. The disease is more common in some families.

A look at the skin

Many notice vitiligo in summer when they sunbathe, but some areas remain white. There are three different forms of Vitiligo:

  • Generalized form: Initially, the spots are usually small and appear symmetrically on different parts of the body. As a rule, parts of the body subject to mechanical stress, e.g. B. elbows, knees, ankles, eyelids, fingers, corners of the mouth, armpits or genital and anal area affected. Over time, the spots enlarge and become more.
  • Localized form: Only a few areas of the body are affected here and the spots are not symmetrical. As a rule, the unpigmented areas no longer change.
  • Universal shape: Here more than 80 percent of the body surface is pigmentless.

The white spots are asymptomatic. In addition, white strands of hair are often found: Affected are eyelashes, eyebrows and beard, among other things. Vitiligo is different for everyone and can both spread and retreat.

If you notice the first symptoms, it is better to contact your doctor directly. If Vitiligo is detected early, the spread of the white spots can be stopped as quickly as possible. If your doctor suspects vitiligo, he will first ask you about your medical history - for example, whether there are other cases in your family or whether you have been exposed to emotional stress. Your doctor will also want to know if you have had other skin conditions and if you have any known thyroid or other autoimmune diseases.

Your doctor can take a small sample of your skin and examine it for melanin. Blood tests are also helpful to clarify possible causes. Here the samples are examined for thyroid levels and certain antibodies. A special lamp, the so-called Wood light, is used less often to make a diagnosis, with the help of which white spots can be easily recognized even in very light-skinned people.

Treatment options: when the melanin is missing

Since the cause of this disease is still unclear, there is currently no therapy that can cure Vitiligo. Therefore, your doctor will advise you to avoid triggering factors in particular. The aim of various therapeutic approaches is to repigment the skin. Every Vitiligo is different in its size, shape and spread on the skin.

Here is a brief overview of various treatment options:

  • light therapy (Phototherapy): This method is the most commonly used and usually lasts between six and twelve months. By means of targeted UV radiation, pigment cells that have not yet been completely destroyed can be stimulated to sprout into the pigmentless skin. The face and trunk respond particularly well to this therapy, while fingers and toes are more difficult to repigment.
  • Laser therapy: Since the laser is set precisely on the affected skin area, the healthy skin areas are protected from unnecessary UV radiation. This avoids possible inflammatory reactions in healthy skin.
  • Anoint: If only isolated skin areas are affected, as is the case with the localized Vitiligoform, therapy with active ingredient-containing ointments is usually carried out. Cortisone ointments are often used here. However, since irreversible skin changes can occur in the long term, immune-regulating ointments or creams are also used.
  • Bleaching: In the case of pronounced and very extensive Vitiligo, the body's still pigmented, healthy skin can be bleached. Important to know: This depigmentation cannot be reversed and the skin becomes extremely sensitive to sunlight. This is why this procedure is rarely used.

The mystery of vitiligo

The exact cause of white spot disease is not yet known. Since it occurs in families in 30 percent of cases, researchers suspect a genetic predisposition.

At the moment, three main theories of origin are being discussed:

  • Autoimmune hypothesis: It is assumed that the body's own antibodies attack and destroy the pigment-forming cells, medically called melanocytes. The reason for this is a misdirected immune response by the body. This theory is considered very likely because destructive antibodies are detectable in some patients.
  • Self-destruction hypothesis: Here it is assumed that the melanocytes self-destruct. Substances that arise during pigment formation are responsible for self-destruction.
  • Neural hypothesis: It is believed that melanocytes are destroyed by a substance made by the nerves in the skin.

Vitiligo often occurs together with other diseases, for example circular hair loss, the autoimmune thyroid disease Hashimoto's thyroiditis or celiac disease.

Triggering factors

The exact cause of the disease is unknown, but some factors that aggravate the disease are undisputed:

  • Mental stress is often the first trigger for the white spots.
  • Injury to the skin: If there is a state of stress, for example inflammation or injury to the skin or UV damage, in the tissue, the occurrence and progression of Vitiligo can be favored.

More than just an aesthetic problem

Vitiligo is not painful, does not cause physical discomfort and is also not contagious. But it is much more than a simple pigment disorder or a purely cosmetic problem. The most painful thing about this disease are the looks and prejudices of other people. Many people often experience the daily confrontation with negative reactions and the exclusion due to their appearance as very stressful. Especially at a young age in the phase of self-discovery, vitiligo can limit psychosocial development. These stress factors can in turn trigger a new episode of illness and thus lead to new spots.

  • Experts advise strengthening the self-confidence of younger people in particular. This makes it easier for them to live with the skin change. The white spots are not something that needs to be hidden, but an addition to what makes each person unique.
  • If you or your child feel stressed by the disease, speak to your doctor about it. He can refer you to a psychotherapist. Here you will learn strategies on how to better deal with the disease.
  • Contact with other affected persons can also have a very relieving effect: in a self-help group you can exchange ideas and receive practical tips.
  • If you still feel uncomfortable, you can hide the affected skin areas with a special cover cream (camouflage) or self-tanner.

Where can you get help?

In Germany there are two organizations that offer you their support:

Tip:

Due to the lack of pigment protection, your skin is very sensitive to light. This increases the risk of developing pale skin cancer. For this reason, regular skin screenings by dermatologists are essential. Use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. This will prevent both sunburn and long-term sun damage.