Vitiligo is the result of the skin’s melanocytes (the cells responsible for giving the skin color) being destroyed. In can occur in anyone, but it tends to be most noticeable in people with darker skin because the contrast is more pronounced.
Signs and Symptoms of Vitiligo
The biggest sign that someone may have vitiligo is the appearance of light or “depigmented” spots on the skin, says Suzanne Friedler, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City. The pale patches are areas with little or no melanin, the skin’s natural pigment. These spots can show up anywhere on the body, though they may first appear in areas that receive a lot of sun exposure, such as on the face, arms, feet, and hands. (3,4,5) It’s also not uncommon for white areas to appear in the groin, armpits, and around the belly button. (3,5)
Other signs of vitiligo can include: (1,4,5)
- Hair turning prematurely gray or white
- Eyelashes or eyebrows losing color and turning white
- Change of color in the retina of the eye, per a study published in the November–December 2019 issue of the Indian Dermatology Online Journal (6)
- Color loss in the nose and mouth
- Inflammation of the ears or eyes, leading to hearing loss and vision problems (4,5)
Where skin spots appear, how widespread the condition becomes, and how much it will progress vary from person to person.
There are two major types of vitiligo:
- Nonsegmental Vitiligo The most common type of vitiligo, with pale skin patches usually appearing on both sides of the body. The first signs may show up on hands, fingertips, wrists, around the eyes or mouth, or on the feet. Nonsegmental vitiligo is also called bilateral or generalized vitiligo or vitiligo vulgaris, according to an article published in September 2016 in F1000 Research. (7) Nonsegmental vitiligo is divided into subtypes based on the way the condition presents itself. These include acrofacial vitiligo, which appears on the face, hands, and feet; mucosal vitiligo, which affects the mucus membranes of the mouth, nose, and genitals; localized or focal vitiligo, which occurs on just a few areas of the body; and universal vitiligo, which may involve 80 to 90 percent of an affected person’s skin. (3, 5)
- Segmental Vitiligo For this type, white patches often appear on just one side of the body, such as one arm or one leg instead of both. Loss of hair color is common. Segmented vitiligo can begin early in life. It may spread rapidly for six months to two years, then stop progressing. In rare cases, this form of vitiligo may become active again years later. (3,8) About 5 to 16 percent of vitiligo cases are segmental vitiligo. (3)
You may also have mixed vitiligo, a combination of nonsegmental and segmental vitiligo.
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