Vitiligo commonly called as ‘leucoderma’ is a condition in which there is a development of milky-white patches on the skin. Millions of people of all races and ethnicities worldwide have vitiligo. In India, it is common to consider affected individuals or members of their family as unfit for marriage. This can happen regardless of the extent of the illness, especially when exposed areas such as face and hands are affected; and in those with darker skin types with higher contrast of white patches on the skin.
[Read: What are the Causes of Vitiligo?]
It usually affects the skin on the body but other areas such as the scalp, lips and genitals can also be affected. Patches of hair can turn white. In the early stages light-colored to milky-white patches can appear, gradually increasing in size or appearing over other parts of the body. There may be periods of activity where new spots can appear and existing patches can increase in size, or inactivity.
The following are some of the myths related to this disease:
• Food – Many believe that vitiligo can be aggravated by eating milk or other white foods, or sour foods like citrus fruits; or by drinking milk shortly after eating fish. Reality – vitiligo has not been shown to have any connection with diet nor does it have any impact on the severity of this condition.
• Dysfunction – Vitiligo is purely a disease of the skin and does not influence the physical and mental abilities.
• Vitiligo is not contagious by nature therefore cannot be transmitted through touch, sharing personal items, saliva or intercourse. It is not related to disorders such as albinism, leprosy or skin cancer.
• Vitiligo cannot be ‘cured’ by any form of medicine – modern medicine or alternative medicine. The disease spread can be controlled and medications can help restore lost skin color. Surgery is an option in those who do not repigment completely. Split thickness skin grafting, suction blister skin grafting, punch grafting and melanocyte transfer are some of the techniques used.
• Not all the white patches on the skin are Vitiligo. Fungal infections, healed eczemas, sun allergies and guttate hypomelanosis are common conditions which can mimic early vitiligo. So, when one sees white-colored patches on the body, they should consult a dermatologist to verify the diagnosis and allay fears.
Coping strategies are important as vitiligo can be for life. Learning about the illness and connecting with others who have vitiligo can help. Knowledge of the disease often improves a person’s quality of life. At the same time it is important to create awareness about the condition among the general population and dispel the common misbeliefs related to it. Doctors should also treat it seriously as a disease and not dismiss it simply as a cosmetic problem with no cure. It is important not just to counsel the patient but also the family to be supportive and understanding.
Dr. Rickson Pereira is a Consulting Dermatologist at Dr. Minal’s Dermatherapie Centre.
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