Vitiligo is a loss of skin pigment that causes white spots or patches to appear on the skin. No one knows exactly why this happens, but it is known that it affects people of both genders and all races.
The good news is that vitiligo, despite being upsetting for those who have it, is not medically dangerous. It is not a form of skin cancer, it is not an infection, it is definitely not contagious. In fact, most of the children who have vitiligo are healthy.
Although vitiligo can happen anywhere on the body, butit’s more likely to occur in:
- skin that is exposed to the sun, such as the face or hands
- skin that has folds, such as the elbows, knees, or groin
- skin around the body’s openings, such as eyes, nostrils, belly button, and genital areas
Although children of all races are affected equally, spots tend to be more visible on individuals with darker skin.
Sometimes children with vitiligo have other symptoms, such as premature greying of the hair or a loss of pigment on the lips, since pigment cells are found in these body areas, too.
Theories about the cause of vitiligo vary. Some experts think it is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system is mistakenly attacking healthy melanocytes. Others think it is a genetic condition, given that more than 30% of affected children has one member of their family with vitiligo.
It is also known that the risk increases in children with a family or personal history of thyroid disease, diabetes, and certain conditions like alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. Vitiligo is not contagious, children cannot get it from someone else.
A dermatologist can usually diagnose vitiligo just by looking for the white patches, as long as they are visible. In children with fair skin, a special tool called a Woods lamp might be used. This lamp uses ultraviolet light in a dark room to illuminate areas of skin with pigment loss that would otherwise be hard to see with the naked eye.
Your doctor will ask many questions about your child’s medical history, including whether a family member has had skin diseases or autoimmune disorders in the past, if your child had recently a skin rash or sun burns, or if the child has had any other diseases or s/he was under stress. A blood test to check for thyroid problems and for the possibility of diabetes may be performed, as these conditions may increase the risk of developing vitiligo.
Treatment of Vitiligo in Children
There is no cure for vitiligo. Sometimes patches go away without treatment, but when that is not the case, there are available treatments to even out the child’s skin tone. Some of these treatments are applied at home; others are performed by a doctor.
You should remember that results may differ among different persons, and there is no 100% effective treatment.
Some treatments that can help your child are discussed below:
- Sunscreens. Daily use of sunscreen is essential to protect the skin against cancer; in addition, because vitiligo patches have no melanin, they cannot tan, and may burn forming scars.
- Cosmetics. Make-up to cover the skin colour difference.
- Corticosteroid creams.
- Photochemotherapy with ultraviolet radiation Α (also known as PUVA).
- Narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy.
When deciding on the treatment plan, be wary of quick-fix “miracle” remedies you mightsee advertised. Always work with your child’s doctor to help you decide the best treatment for your child.
Dealing with the Emotional Impact of Vitiligo
If your child has vitiligo, you know that even though it is not dangerous to his/her physical health, it can still have an emotional impact. Any condition that makes children look different from their peers can be emotionally tough, especially during the pre-teenage and teenage years.
Some children are naturally more resilient and do just fine against these challenges. But others need a bit more help. As a parent you can do a lot to arm your child with confidence and self-esteem. Here are a few tips:
- Do not focus on the vitiligo or put pressure on your child to cover it up. He or sheneeds to know your love and acceptance are unconditional
- Remind your child of all the things at whichhe or she excels, and how they have nothing to do with skin colour.
- Teach your child to be comfortable explaining what vitiligo is to other children. Once the mystery of vitiligo is taken away, most children will stop staring and asking questions.
- Encourage your child to say “yes” to play dates, pool parties, trips, and any other activities he or she might be tempted to pass on because of the vitiligo.
- Urge your child to volunteer. It could be a food bank, a shelter for animals or a political cause… giving back makes kids feel powerful.
Finally, get emotional support if your child needs it. Especially if you see any signs of withdrawal,depression, or anxiety. Counsellors, therapists, and vitiligo support groups can help.