Vitiligo is an acquired skin condition in which the skin loses its pigment. It presents as white patches on the skin. These white patches represent the affected areas where the pigment is lost.
The most commonly affected areas include skin around the eyes and mouth, hands, joint surfaces, skin folds and genital area. Some patients with vitiligo may notice that patches of hair turn white. Most patients report no associated itch or discomfort. However, itch can be present in early lesions.
Vitiligo affects both children and adults. It also affects people of various ethnic backgrounds. The condition is diagnosed through medical history and physical examination of its characteristic appearance. Occasionally, your doctor may use a special lamp (Wood’s light) to aid and confirm the diagnosis.
Vitiligo has an unpredictable course. The patches may spread or remain stable for years. Most patients will be affected for life. Occasionally, the pigment may return to normal. It is important to note that vitiligo is not life threatening or contagious. However, many patients feel self-conscious and very distressed by the appearance of white patches.
It is unclear why people develop vitiligo. In affected patches the immune system attacks pigment cells (melanocytes) causing them to die or to stop producing pigment.
There are no consistently effective treatments for vitiligo, although it is an area of active clinical research. New topical and oral/systemic medications are currently being investigated for the treatment of vitiligo.