According to the National Vitiligo Foundation (NVR), approximately 2-4 million Americans suffer from vitiligo. This skin condition is characterized by a loss of pigment in patches of skin, causing white or colorless areas to appear on the skin. While it is unknown what causes the condition and there is no cure for vitiligo, there are treatments available to keep the condition at bay and slow down the process. The key to treating vitiligo is catching it early and these treatments are most effective on children - especially on the face, feet, and hands.
Vitiligo At The Ankle
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As seen on The Doctors, the mother of 3 young sons who have recently developed vitiligo seek treatment advice. Dr. Drew Ordon explains that vitiligo happens when melanocytes (pigment cells) in the skin are basically attacked by it's own body. Recognizing the pigment cells as foreign cells, the body continually attacks and destroys them. "There's no way to predict if the vitiligo will spread and how rapidly," says Dr. Ordon.
People of all skin colors may develop vitiligo but the condition is more visible on those with darker skin. There is no cure for vitiligo but as Dr. Ordon says, there are many treatments available, including protopic ointments, UVB light therapy, lasers and steroids. The key to treating vitiligo is to start early but to seek a professional who has treated many vitiligo cases.
In some cases, pigmentation may be brought back with the use of the excimer laser. Board Certified Dermatologist of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York, Dr. Lori Brightman has had some success in helping restore pigmentation. "Many people still don't know that you can actually use the excimer laser to treat vitiligo," she says. "You can actually bring the color back."
Cases of localized vitiligo have shown great promise with the excimer laser treatment. "There is a very specific wavelength of light that we use," says Dr. Brightman, "But it does take a lot of treatments and a lot of patience on the patient's part." She suggests a treatment cycle of 2 sessions weekly for at least 2 months to see if there is improvement, although some patients have seen a difference before then. After which, patients should schedule follow ups to see if additional treatments are necessary. "I've had some very wonderful results and it's really great for patients."
Dr. Brightman says the excimer treatment is best for localized vitiligo. "That means that it's confined to small areas. Also, there are certain areas on the body that are much harder to re-pigment, for example the hands and feet. I do still have some patients who end up re-pigmenting on the hands, but again we have to be persistent." By combining the excimer laser along with topical medication, Dr. Brightman has seen a healthy percentage of patients who see improvement.