Vitiligo is a condition which affects the cells responsible for giving our skin its colour (melanocytes).
The key vitiligo symptom is the sudden onset of a single, few or many milky-white patches of irregular shapes and sizes on the skin. Small areas of de-pigmentation gradually start spreading to involve larger areas of the body. Symptoms of vitiligo appear more prominently on dark-skinned people and can be quite disfiguring at times.
As far as the progress and reasons for vitiligo symptoms are concerned, they are highly unpredictable and differ from person to person. Some people experience an extremely fast advancement, with a quick involvement of large areas of the body. In some other cases, there may be a few small patches that do not change much over time. The active phase of development of new patches can be followed by a phase that does not present any new patches.
The areas affected by vitiligo symptoms retain normal sensitivity to touch and pain; although, sensitivity towards the sun increases in many cases. Symptoms of vitiligo can also be seen on the hair over the affected parts; the hair on the skin, scalp, beard, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc. may lose its colour.
Over time, some of the vitiligo patches may regain their natural or original colour on their own.
Symptoms of vitiligo can affect any part of the body. However, sun-exposed regions, areas along the folds of the skin (such as groin, armpits), areas around body orifices or sites of previous injury are commonly affected by vitiligo symptoms.
The general symptoms of vitiligo are as follows:
- Loss of original skin colour in patches. This vitiligo symptom normally first appears on the face, hands, areas around body orifices as well as the genitals.
- Loss of colour in the tissues lining the mucous membranes (inside your mouth and nose).
- Premature greying or whitening of the hair on your eyelashes, scalp, beard or eyebrows.
There are different types of this skin condition. The symptoms of vitiligo vary with the type of vitiligo one is suffering from. Following are some common patterns of body affection seen in vitiligo patients:
- Focal: In this case, vitiligo symptoms/patches are limited to particular areas of the body.
- Segmental: In this case, the vitiligo symptoms are usually distributed asymmetrically, affecting one side of the body.
- Symmetrical: In this case, one can see bilaterally symmetrical patches over the body.
- Generalised: In this case, symptoms of vitiligo are spread all over the body.
- Over bony prominences: In this case, the skin near the joints is affected.
- Lip-tip vitiligo: In this type of vitiligo, the symptoms of vitiligo are limited to the lips and the tips of the fingers and toes.
- Genital vitiligo: In this type, symptoms of vitiligo affect the private parts of the body.
Emotional Impact of Vitiligo
Living with vitiligo can be very difficult. Because the patches of vitiligo are generally visible to others, people often mistake them for signs of leprosy and subject the person to social isolation. The myth that vitiligo symptoms are contagious is also responsible for the social isolation and rejection faced by people suffering from the condition. This can have a deep impact on the patient’s psyche and can lead to the distortion of his/her self-image. Anxiety, stress and depression can further worsen the symptoms of vitiligo.