Look for These 5 Common Signs of Vitiligo

Up to 2 million Americans have vitiligo, a condition that makes skin lose its natural color. If you have vitiligo, you have areas of skin that appear lighter than the rest.

Melanocytes are the cells in your skin that give it pigment. Vitiligo makes these cells stop working like they should, and your skin loses color as a result.

Vitiligo affects people of all races and ethnicities, but the condition is often more noticeable in people who have darker skin tones. It often starts small, but it can spread over time.

Oswald Mikell, MD, and our team at Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry specialize in diagnosing and treating vitiligo. If you’ve noticed lightening patches of skin and you’re wondering if it could be due to vitiligo, look for these five common signs:

1. Patches of lighter skin

The most common and most noticeable sign of vitiligo is patches of skin that are lighter or whiter than the rest of your skin. Vitiligo patches can be any size and appear anywhere on your body. 

However, the patches often develop on the hands, arms, face, and feet first. As the condition progresses, patches may get larger and affect mucous membranes, such as the inside of the mouth and nose, along with the genitals.

2. Changing hair color

While it’s normal for hair to turn white or gray with age, a sudden change might mean you have vitiligo. Your hair gets its color from the melanocytes in the skin that it grows from, so hair might appear lighter or white if it grows in a patch of vitiligo.

Hair anywhere on your body can lose pigment due to vitiligo. Look for light or white hair on your scalp, in your eyebrows, along your eyelashes, or in the beard area.

3. Changing eye color 

Melanocytes in your irises are responsible for your eye color. If vitiligo affects these cells, your eye color could change. It’s not unusual for eye color to change gradually as you get older. But eye color that changes abruptly or significantly could indicate vitiligo in your eyes.

In rare cases, vitiligo can affect cells in your retinas and impact your quality of vision.

4. Hearing loss

Your inner ear has melanocytes, too. If vitiligo attacks these cells, you might experience hearing loss. Anywhere between 12-38% of people with vitiligo have some degree of hearing loss. 

Hearing loss isn’t always easy to recognize on your own, so getting a professional evaluation is the only way to know if you have it. 

5. Other autoimmune disorders

Since vitiligo develops when the melanocytes in your skin stop working correctly, it’s usually considered an autoimmune disorder. Vitiligo itself doesn’t always cause other health issues, but 15-25% of people with vitiligo have at least one other autoimmune condition.

Vitiligo can occur alongside other autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and autoimmune thyroid disease. Seeking treatment for your vitiligo can help your health care team identify or rule out other conditions that could be affecting your health.

Most of the time, vitiligo doesn’t cause complications. It’s not painful or contagious, but it can be a source of embarrassment and cause low self-esteem in people who have it.

Dr. Mikell and our team understand the ways vitiligo can affect your health and happiness, and that’s why we offer UVB light therapy. The XTRAC laser can restore skin coloration to areas affected by vitiligo, and we can help you decide if treatment is right for you.

Does your skin show signs of vitiligo? Schedule a skin evaluation by booking an appointment over the phone with Dermatology Associates of the Lowcountry today.

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