What are the symptoms of vitiligo?
The main symptom of vitiligo is skin patches that look different from the rest of your skin.
- are usually permanent
- can be white or pink, depending on your natural skin tone
- usually develop slowly over time
- vary in size and extent from person to person
- are not painful (although they can be itchy)
You can find the patches all over your body, but they are most commonly found on the:
- mouth (inside and outside)
- wrists and fingers
- groin area and genitals
You can also get patches where you have hair roots, making your hair white or grey.
The patches may be a few small spots in some people, whereas others can have larger patches that join up.
There are two different types of vitiligo, depending on what the patches look like:
1. Non-segmental vitiligo
- the most common form
- can occur all over the body, often with symmetrical patches
- also known as bilateral or generalised vitiligo
2. Segmental vitiligo
- occurs only in one area of the body
- less common but often starts earlier
- thought to affect 3 in 10 children with vitiligo
- also known as unilateral or localised vitiligo
What are the early signs of vitiligo?
Vitiligo can start as a patch of skin that is paler than your usual colour and gradually turns completely white. As it spreads, the centre may remain white but become surrounded by lighter skin. It is impossible to predict if the patches will spread and where to.
Vitiligo patches can also be pink if there are blood vessels under the skin.
Are there complications from having vitiligo?
Vitiligo is not life-threatening, but it can cause other health problems.
- The lack of pigmentation means the skin can burn more quickly in the sun.
- If people do not like the appearance of their skin, it can impact their self-esteem and mental health.
- Inflammation of the eyes and a partial loss of hearing is often linked to vitiligo.
- The Vitiligo Society estimates that 15-25% of people with vitiligo have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes or an overactive thyroid gland.
According to a medical review from 2016, over 50% of people with vitiligo experience relationship problems. The Vitiligo Society is an excellent place to get advice on living with vitiligo.
When should I talk to a doctor about my vitiligo?
You should speak to your doctor if you notice any sudden changes in your skin or if you have an issue with your skin that’s affecting your physical or mental health. Skin conditions can also be a sign of an underlying health condition, so even if it isn’t bothering you, it’s still worth speaking to a doctor.