vitiligo - Patients ask, Dr. Ringpfeil answers
Please feel free to use the blog below to share information about vitiligo or to ask Dr. Franziska Ringpfeil a question that might be of interest to others.
Vitiligo is a disease manifested by loss of pigment in the skin. It is an acquired disorder that often runs in families. It is characterized by depigmentation or total lack of melanin pigment. It can occur in small localized areas or be widespread. Fifty percent of individuals develop the disease before the age of 20 and 25% develop the disease before the age of 10. The cause is unknown but is believed to autoimmune in nature. It is more commonly seen in individuals with endocrine disorders such as thyroid disease.
The diagnosis can be made clinically in the presence of well demarcated areas of depigmentation found symmetrically over boney prominences such as the knees or around body orifices such as the mouth, eyes and perianal or periurethral area. When the diagnosis is unclear, a skin biopsy may need to be done.
Patients with vitiligo must be advised to follow strict sun protection. The areas of skin affected by vitiligo cannot tan and will burn with sun exposure. Sunburns raise the risk of skin cancer. Also, when normal surrounding skin is tan the loss of pigment is more noticeable. Also, since vitiligo can be associated with endocrine disorders such as thyroid disease, blood tests to rule out an underlying disorder may need to be performed.
Treatment options are influenced by the amount of skin involved and the location. Often a trial of treatment with a topical corticosteroid is the initial treatment choice. Topical immunomodulators such as Protopic Ointment or Elidel Cream have also been shown to be effective and are more appropriate for extended use on delicate areas. A series of narrowband ultraviolet light treatments (NB-UVB) have also been found to be very effective. The excimer laser delivers NB-UVB directly to specific skin areas without affecting normal surrounding skin. Ringpfeil Advanced Dermatology has an excimer laser and is proud to be able to offer excimer laser treatment to our patients. Excimer has come to be preferred over older light treatment modalities such as PUVA (psoralens plus ultraviolet A). The advantage of excimer over PUVA is shorter treatment times, decreased risk of phototoxic reactions, and the ability to use excimer in children, pregnant women and in individuals with kidney or liver disease since no oral medication is utilized. In cases where depigmentation due to vitiligo is very extensive, permanently removing all remaining pigment can be offered for cosmetic reasons.
For individuals who are self-conscious about vitiligo involving visible areas such as the face and hands, cosmetic products under the brand names of Covermark or Dermablend are available for camouflage. The National Vitiligo Foundation is an organization that can be a resource for educational materials and support groups.