Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Vitiligo – Busting the Myths

Dr Anil Ganjoo, Consultant Dermatologist and Laser Surgeon, Founder Director Skinnovation Clinics, New Delhi President SAARC AAD

Published: Jan 4, 2022 11:06:59 AM IST
Updated: Jan 4, 2022 05:54:02 PM IST

Vitiligo – Busting the Myths

Vitiligo is a cosmetic disorder that has been associated with immense social stigma andinnumerable myths and misconceptions since times immemorial. Due to the stigma and misinformation about the disease the patients and the families are under immense psychological stress. The disease is particularly important in our part of the world because it shows more on the darker skins.

Its extremely important to understand this disease and spread awareness about the benign nature of the disease considering the misinformation prevailing in the society at large. This, I believe will go a long way to reduce the social stigma associated with the disease and therefore improve the psychological stress amongst the patients suffering from it. So here we present the facts about the disease and try to 'bust the myths' associated with it.

What is Vitiligo?

The common signs & symptoms and treatment

  • Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease associated with damage and destruction of the pigment (colour) forming cells of the skin called the melanocytes.
  • This happens because of an auto immune process working against the melanocytes.
  • It presents with white patches due to loss of color on any part of the body. However, it is not associated with any physical symptoms and is just a cosmetic defect.
  • It is important to understand that vitiligo is not a contagious disease and does not spread by touch or close contact. It is a genetic defect that may or may not be present in the rest of the family.
  • The disease can be treated quite effectively by a proper dermatological care and management.
  • It, however has a tendency to recur. But most of the patients can be treated with quite wholesome results.

5 things to follow if you have vitiligo

  • Don't panic
  • Get a proper dermatologist's consultation
  • Do not fall into the trap of quacks who assure you complete cure
  • Be confident and bear in mind that it is only a cosmetic defect
  • Do not let the disease make you lose your confidence

Common misconceptions/myths related to vitiligo

•    That the disease is communicable
    – It is absolutely not. It is just a disease associated with loss of color and does not spread from person to person
•    That it is some form of infection like leprosy
    – It’s not. It's a genetic disorder that causes an immune mediated damage of color forming cells in the skin
•    That there is no treatment for the disease in allopathy
    – As with any other genetic disorder this also doesn't have absolute cure in any form of medicine. However, it can be controlled and treated in most of the patients
•    That the allopathic medication first controls and then worsens the disease
    – No. The disease follows its own course and may worsen or improve on its own. The medication only helps to decrease and treat the condition
•    That only the alternative streams of medicine have complete treatment for the disease
    – That's not true.
•    That the disease can spread with intimate touching or sharing of food etc
    – Doesn't spread from person to person by any kind of activity

Is phototherapy safe for treatment of vitiligo?

  • Phototherapy is one of the most effective treatments for vitiligo.
  • It is also one of the safest treatments for the disease.
  • Narrow band UVB is safe in pregnancy and children also
  • Even long term and unlimited use of narrowband UVB therapy has been found to be absolutely safe in the Indian skins
  • Now with the availability of targeted phototherapy and the Excimer laser and light therapy the treatment has become even more effective and safe as it can be used specifically on the affected areas only

How can family members be supportive towards vitiligo patients?

  • The family needs to understand the psyche of the affected patient
  • The patient may be under immense stress due to the disease and the stigma associated with if
  • The family should support the patient and make him/her feel that they are absolutely normal but for the loss of color over a few areas of the skin
  • The family should help the patient by taking a proper consultation with an experienced Dermatologist  and build the confidence in the patient so that he has complete faith in his doctor
  • The family needs to understand that the treatment of the disease is prolonged and the patient would need moral and psychological support to go through it

Vitiligo and its psychological effects

  • Vitiligo can have a huge psychological effect on not only the patient but also the entire family
  • The patient feels that he has got some dangerous and contagious disease and he is shunned by his friends and even his nears and dears most of the time
  • The family suffers because of the social stigma associated with the disease as also the burden of prolonged treatment
  • One major aspect is the difficulty in getting married and having normal elations with the friends and the society at large
  • There is a huge need for spreading awareness amongst the society about the benign nature of the disease as also the non commutability of the condition

10 things to follow if your child has vitiligo

  • Don't panic
  • See a qualified dermatologist
  • Take the doctors advise and treatment seriously
  • Don't fear immunosuppressant treatment like steroids and other drugs given by the doctor
  • Such drugs given by a qualified doctor along with the advice on dosing and duration will make the treatment absolutely safe
  • These drugs are the only way to control the spreading and unstable disease
    Along with the control of disease the re pigmentation can be brought about by proper use of phototherapy
  • Have faith in your doctor. He will always try his best to treat the disease as best as he can
  • Make sure that the disease is not affecting your child psychologically. Psychological support will go a long way in bringing up the child properly
  • Keep a close watch on his activities at home and at school

Can vitiligo be cured?

  • The disease is due a genetic defect that can't be corrected.
  • However the activity of the disease can be effectively halted as also the depigmented patches can be  effectively re pigmented with the help of medication and phototherapy.
  • Once the disease is stable the left over patches that have shown a poor response to therapy can be corrected with surgical techniques like melanocyte grafting.

Therefore we need to understand that vitiligo is just a cosmetic defect of the skin with patchy discoloration. There is no other defect in the body of these patients. The disease is a genetic disorder and is not at all communicable to others through any kind of contact. The disease can be controlled and treated in most of the patients with modern allopathic medication, phototherapy and in some cases with surgical procedures.

The society needs to look at these patients with passion rather than stigma as they already have a huge psychological stress because of the disease. A compassionate outlook towards these patients will go a long way to reduce the psychological stress amongst these patients.

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