What is Vitiligo?
So you have noticed a few spots appear on either your skin or on someone else’s and they are beginning to get bigger and you’re worried about what that might mean? I’m talking about vitiligo, (pronounced vittle-EYE-go) chomas.
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is not caused by bleaching. It’s a skin condition in which the skin stops producing melanin and causes white patches to appear on different parts of your body. Melanin is the pigment that gives colour to your skin, hair and eyes - the darker you are, the more melanin your skin produces. These patches don’t burn, are not painful and they are not contagious. You can’t feel these patches but you can definitely see them because they are different, in colour, to your skin.
What causes it?
Nobody knows what exactly causes it. Some think that it’s caused by sunburn or being emotionally distressed, but there has not been any proven fact. When your body can’t tell the difference between what is a part of you and what is a foreign object, then it starts making antibodies (specialised cells that normally recognise bacteria and viruses or anything else that doesn’t belong to the body) that attack the body’s own tissues. In other words, these antibodies in your body start accidentally attacking normal cells.
Basically chomas, vitiligo is an autoimmune condition where your body mistakenly recognises cells which are a part of you as foreign objects and attacks the cells that create melanin as they would invading bacteria and viruses, leaving colourless patches on your skin.
According to research, there are between 0.5% and 2% people who live with vitiligo worldwide. The patches are more common in areas where the skin is easily exposed to the sun, for example the hands, arms, feet and face.
Who can get Vitiligo?
Anyone can have this skin condition, males and females, and it can start at any age but it mostly develops in people who are in their teens and twenties.
Can it spread?
There isn’t a way of telling if vitiligo can spread. For some people, however, the white patches don’t spread but for others, it may spread to other areas of the body, and sometimes it can spread very quickly.
Emotional and psychological effects
Some people with vitiligo might be teased or bullied by others who don’t understand what vitiligo is. I know it’s hard to speak to and educate people on this, especially when they are being mean, but those are exactly the people we need to speak to so that they too can understand that there is nothing wrong with anyone who has vitiligo. If you have vitiligo, it doesn’t have to destroy your self-esteem. You are different, and that in itself is special.
There a few famous people like the late Michael Jackson, Tamar Braxton and 22 year-old Chantelle Brown from the TV show America’s Next Top Model, who have vitiligo.
There is still a long way to go before people can see past vitiligo, but there has been progress.
If you need to find out more on vitiligo then visit The Vitiligo Society of South Africa (VSSA) on http://www.vitiligosocietysa.com/. If you are interested in meeting up with other chomas who have vitiligo, then register as a member of the VSSA and sign up for their newsletter to be informed about meetings by email. To get correct notice, be sure to enter your correct province.
Remember, if you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send me a Facebook Message, a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).
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