by Zareen Afridi
Among the many rare diseases that occur to very limited people in the world is Vitiligo, a skin disorder that forms milky white patches over the skin. About this disease Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said that this is one of the major medical problem in India after Malaria and Leprosy. This is basically a non-contagious disease that is due to depigmentation of the skin. The major areas affected by Vitiligo are face, elbows, knees, hands and feet. This is more noticeable in dark toned people.
Vitiligo is caused when the colour producing cells of the body called melanocytes die. This affects the skin but may also occur on scalp, lips and genitals. Hair may also turn greyish as a result of Vitiligo.
The reason of cell death can be blamed to genetics or a faulty immune system. Autoimmunity occurs when the cells of the immune system fight themselves. They kill their own cells as a result of a wrecked and non-effective immune system. This results in free radical induced damage and is a product of oxidative stress. Other reasons include skin injury or severe sunburn. Vitiligo affects 0.5 to 2% of general population. There is a dire need to create awareness about this as it is looked upon as a major problem in today’s society. Since this is a non-communicable disease, this is not transmitted through physical contact.
Dr B Venu Kumari, Medical Director, Venus Institute of Skin and Hair, Hyderabad, opens up that Vitiligo has a social stigma attached to it. People suffering from this disease are treated as if they belong to some other planet, as a result they tend to slip into depression. Their confidence and self-esteem is shattered and develop anxiety, embarrassment and anger. With the growing age, they face problems in getting married, getting a job or settling down. This condition is not present by birth and develops in people between 10 to 30 years of age.
Dr Vaggu Anand Kumar, Consultant Dermatologist, Cosmetologist and Hair Transplantation Surgeon, Krishna Institute of Medical Science, Secunderabad has to say that combination of autoimmunity, genetics and environmental aspects may lead to development of Vitiligo. Deficiency of vitamin B12, folate, copper and zinc in the body may boost up the severity of Vitiligo.
Myths that this is a contagious disease and is painful are absolutely wrong. Some believe that consuming white foods, like milk or curd contribute to spreading of white patches but this is not correct. Banishing sour and spicy foods also has no relation to Vitiligo. It is only a skin disorder that doesn’t infect through touch, saliva or intercourse. Also this doesn’t stem to more dangerous diseases like Albinism, Leprosy or Skin Cancer. Much awareness is needed to alleviate such unbiased and faulty misconceptions. Once diagnosed, immediate treatment is needed to the patient. The person should be supported and treated normally other than ostracizing or shunning him or her. Rural areas need more focus as myths and superstitions regarding Vitiligo are still prevalent.
Although there is no permanent cure for Vitiligo patients, the condition can be minimised to some extent. Treatments like melanocyte phototherapy with narrowband ultraviolet B-light and Laser Therapy have proved helpful in combating the condition to some extent. Diet rich in antioxidants like fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables are recommended for Vitiligo patients. Most importantly, a happy and stress free life can be of great benefit in addressing to this issue. The patients can use creams containing corticosteroids like acetonide to restore their skin tone.
Every human is rightful of living a happy and joyous life. Supporting those who are endowed with Vitiligo is a duty that everyone must follow. The patients should not lose hope and get treatment done to get even toned skin.
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