A middle-aged man never went to the doctor as a young man when depigmented patches appeared on his hands because he did not have any symptoms that made him feel uncomfortable. However, every time he went to shake hands with customers once he started his own business, he felt as though the other person was scared.
Chan Heng-leong, vice director at Shu Tien Clinic and director of the clinic’s Medical Cosmetology Center, says that the prevalence rate of vitiligo in Taiwan is about one percent of the population, with an estimated 100,000 people suffering from the condition. It usually appears between the ages of 10 and 30, and 50 percent get it before they turn 20. Although vitiligo is not contagious and poses no immediate threat to a person’s life, people with vitiligo may be discriminated against because of how their skin looks, as it usually shows up on highly visible areas of the body.
Chan says the condition causes skin abnormalities because of abnormalities in the body’s melanocytes — cells primarily responsible for producing the skin pigment melanin — but says the main cause of vitiligo is still unknown. Certain clinical studies have shown that it might arise from genetic or autoimmune causes, or oxidative stress, thyroid dysfunction, hemoglobin deficiency or lack of melanocytes. It typically appears on the head, face, four limbs, armpits, and lower back. The size and amount vary from person to person. Severe cases can affect the entire body. Depigmented sections of the skin may gradually grow bigger or new areas may appear.
Chan says that depigmented skin areas lack the protection of melanocytes, and are therefore more prone to sunburn if exposed to too much sunlight, increasing the risk of skin cancer.
1. contagious adj.
傳染性的 (chuan2 ran3 xing4 de5)
例: Vaccinations significantly reduce the transmission of contagious diseases.
2. discriminate v.
歧視 (qi2 shi4)
例: People discriminated against for having vitiligo may experience depression or other mood disorders.
3. autoimmune adj.
自體免疫的 (zi4 ti3 mian3 yi4 de5)
例: Around 75 percent of Americans with autoimmune diseases are women.
Chan stresses that vitiligo is a curable condition. By undergoing skin graft surgery, the depigmented areas can be replaced with transplanted normal skin, or melanocytes can be injected into the skin, but the time for recovery is longer. Currently, various forms of phototherapy combined with applying medicinal ointments locally show good results. When it comes to diet, large quantities of vitamin C should be avoided, while foods with vitamin B complex should be increased and the skin should be protected from direct sunlight.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)