Vitiligo occurs in all ethnic races equally but is more noticeable in dark skinned people. Also vitiligo is a lifelong condition affecting skin and mucous membranes. The onset will show a well-defined pale area where skin gets stretched like elbows, knees, face, fingers and lips. Except for an occasional itchiness, there are no other ill effects from vitiligo except for the psychological and social impact on the patient.
Vitiligo characteristically appears like
- Flat patches of skin, normal to touch but without any pigments.
- Pale areas with a darker color border.
- Edges are irregular in shape but look well defined.
- Borders look convex in nature.
- Sizes vary from millimeters to centimeters.
Symptoms for various types
There are commonly two patterns –
- Non-segmental vitiligo – also known as bilateral and generalized vitiligo – with symptoms appearing symmetrically on both sides of the body – both eyes, knees, feet, hands etc. Most commonly occurring type, extensive spread of color loss covering larger area.
- Segmental vitiligo – also known as localized or unilateral vitiligo – white patches on only one side, one area of the body. Early onset with hair color loss and slow progression.
There are subtypes which describe how the pigment loss occurs like –
Progress of symptoms
During onset, vitiligo starts as a patch that looks paler than the surrounding area. Over time, this patch becomes totally white or with a white center circumscribed by pale skin. Sometimes the edges may look red like it is inflamed. Areas with underlying blood vessels may look light pink. Pale areas are quite susceptible to sunburn easily. Vitiligo affects areas exposed to sunlight most commonly. Prematurely hair turns white in eyelashes, eye brows and beard.
Where symptoms occur
Onset symptoms may be on feet, forearms, hands and face – especially around lip, eye areas. Most commonly affected areas are
- Skin around eyes and mouth.
- Genitals, groin, armpits.
- Wrists, fingers.
- Inside the mouth, mucous membranes.
- Color changes in the eye inner layer (retina).
- Bony protrusions.
While vitiligo causes white patches on the body, it can involve the scalp, beard, eyelashes and eyebrows. When the melanocytes in the hair follicles are destroyed, hair becomes partly or fully white as a localized patch or total scalp area. In people with tanned or dark skin, the pale/white patches stand out more starkly and cause cosmetic and social embarrassment.
- Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leperology – Vitiligo: A sign of systemic disease (Richard H Huggins, Christopher A Janusz, Robert A Schwartz) view
- NHS UK – Vitiligo Symptoms view
- British Association of Dermatology view
- Mayo Clinic – Vitiligo Symptoms view
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Vitiligo Symptoms view
- American Association of Dermatology – Vitiligo Signs and Symptoms view