Wearing sunscreen, getting regular eye exams, and attending support groups are some of the many effective ways to avoid complications of vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes patches of your skin to lose color. It can affect anyone regardless of skin color but is often more noticeable in people with darker skin.
This condition can usually be treated so that your skin turns back to its original color. However, vitiligo treatment doesn’t prevent this disease from changing your skin color again in the future.
Vitiligo can be extremely difficult to live with, as it can make you feel self-conscious or upset about your appearance. Knowing how to avoid complications of this disease may help you cope with it the best you can and improve your quality of life.
Here’s more about how to avoid the complications of vitiligo and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center when you are ready to seek treatment for this condition.
What Causes Vitiligo?
Vitiligo occurs when skin cells called melanocytes become destroyed or stop producing melanin. Melanin is the pigment that provides color to your eyes, hair, and skin.
Vitiligo is thought to be an autoimmune condition where your immune system destroys the melanocytes. However, some researchers think it may be caused by genetics or family history, or an event that caused trauma to the skin. Examples of such events include severe sunburn, exposure to a chemical, or stress.
Other potential risk factors for vitiligo include:
- Having another autoimmune condition. Lupus, type 1 diabetes, and pernicious anemia are common types of autoimmune conditions.
- A family history of other autoimmune conditions.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Severe cuts on the skin.
What Are Common Complications Of Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is not a life-threatening disease, and it is not contagious. However, its complications can affect your social life, or make you feel sad, depressed, stressed, and anxious. It can also lead to other serious health problems. Common complications of vitiligo include:
- Eye and vision problems.
- Hearing loss.
- Social and mental distress.
- Skin atrophy.
- Unpleasant side effects of topical steroid medication.
What Causes Vitiligo Complications?
If you have vitiligo, you face the risk of numerous complications due to the way this disease destroys melanocytes.
Melanin can naturally protect your skin from the sun’s rays. People with vitiligo are more vulnerable to sunburn because their skin lacks this protective melanin. The parts of your body most likely to be affected by sunburn if you have vitiligo include the neck, nose, eyelids, and other areas with thin skin.
The irises and retinas in your eyes also contain melanocytes. Therefore, vitiligo can damage your irises and retinas to cause eye and vision problems. Inflammation of the eye (uveitis and iritis) are some of the most common eye conditions linked to vitiligo.
The inner part of the ear also contains melanocytes, which play an important role in our perception of balance and equilibrium. Vitiligo can sometimes lead to the destruction of these melanocytes to cause hearing loss. The American Academy of Dermatology Association says that between 12% and 38% of people with vitiligo suffer from some degree of hearing loss.
Vitiligo can often cause social and mental distress due to the way it affects your appearance. This disease usually appears on the hands and face first, where everyone can see it. It also develops on and around the genitals, which can lead to problems with sexual intimacy. Some people with vitiligo experience premature whitening of the hair on their scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard.
Many people with this disease experience mental distress. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, headache, and insomnia are among the most common symptoms of mental distress.
The CDC defines stigma as discrimination against an identifiable group of people, a place, or a nation. It adds that fear and anxiety about a disease—such as vitiligo—can lead to social stigma and negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have this condition. Many people with vitiligo face social stigma due to the way it can make them less sightly or attractive.
Side Effects Of Topical Steroids
Topical steroids are a common treatment for vitiligo. These medications can decrease the immune system response. Sometimes, they can prevent the white patches on your skin from spreading and growing larger. They may even restore some of your original skin color.
Unfortunately, topical steroids come with side effects like any other medication—especially when used for a long time. One of the most common side effects of steroids for vitiligo is skin atrophy or thinning skin.
Other common side effects of topical steroids include:
- Inflamed hair follicles.
- Skin irritation or contact dermatitis.
- Excessive hair growth on the patches of skin being treated.
- Stretch marks.
For a long time, it was thought that people with vitiligo were at higher risk for skin cancer. This was because vitiligo increases the risk of sunburn and sun damage. These are well-known risk factors for skin cancer. However, there is no scientific evidence that shows a link between skin cancer and vitiligo. A study published in a 2021 issue of Scientific Reports showed that vitiligo was associated with a reduced risk of skin cancer.
According to the CDC, common risk factors for skin cancer include:
- A lighter natural skin color.
- Skin that burns or freckles easily.
- A personal or family history of skin cancer.
- Blond or red hair.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Lots of moles.
Ask your healthcare provider for more information about the relationship between skin cancer and vitiligo. Your doctors may be able to share their own professional experiences about it and talk to you in more detail about skin cancer risk factors.
How Can I Avoid Complications Of Vitiligo?
Though vitiligo can be difficult to live with, there are several steps you can take to reduce your risk for its related complications. Here are things you can do to avoid complications of this disease:
Wearing sunscreen at all times can reduce your risk for sunburn, which can make your vitiligo more noticed and pronounced. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30. You may also want to use water-resistant sunscreen for extra protection in the event you sweat or your skin gets wet.
Apply your sunscreen at least every two hours. Consider wearing a wide-brimmed hat, large sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts for added protection. Ask your doctor or dermatologist to recommend the best sunscreen for people with vitiligo.
Get Regular Eye Exams
Uveitis, iritis, glaucoma, and blindness are some of many eye-related problems linked to vitiligo. The best way to avoid eye and vision problems if you have vitiligo is to see your eye doctor regularly for a vision exam. Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience any changes in your eyes or vision, such as double or blurred vision.
Get An Annual Hearing Test
Hearing loss is common among people with vitiligo. This is why it’s essential to have an annual hearing test if you have this condition. See an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor. An ENT doctor is also known as an otolaryngologist. An ENT doctor can check you regularly for hearing and ear problems that may be triggered by vitiligo.
Manage and Address Mental Distress
Vitiligo can have a major impact on your psychological well-being. If you are suffering from mental distress due to your condition, take steps to address it or get help right away. This may involve focusing on self-acceptance and letting go of stress through activities like meditation, exercise, and relaxation.
You can also meet with a therapist who can teach you helping coping methods or join a support group for people with vitiligo. Support groups can connect you with peers who understand what you’re going through. Those who have had vitiligo for a long time can share helpful tips on how to cope.
Reducing stigma is easier said than done, especially since you have no control over what other people think. However, what you can do is raise awareness about vitiligo and remain confident. Show people that you do not allow your condition to control your life. Educate people about what vitiligo is, and explain that it is not contagious. If necessary, cut ties with toxic people in your life who stigmatize vitiligo. This can ultimately prevent those individuals from affecting your well-being.
Explore Other Treatments
Topical steroids are just one of many treatments for vitiligo. If you do not want to deal with the potential risks and side effects of these medications, talk to your doctor about other available treatments. UV light therapy, depigmentation agents, and surgery are other common treatments for vitiligo. Your doctor can help you choose a treatment that works best for you and refer you to a specialist if needed.
Managing Vitiligo and Other Skin Conditions With Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified physicians who can help you manage vitiligo and other diseases of the skin. We can also diagnose and treat complications of vitiligo should they develop, such as hearing problems, vision problems, and mental health disorders. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.