Vitiligo may be hereditary to some extent and children whose parents have the skin condition are more likely to develop vitiligo themselves. This depigmentation issue that causes white patches on the skin affects between one and two million people in the United States, although figures are vague due to less severe cases often going undiagnosed. Cases of vitiligo in children occur less frequently simply because skin trauma, which can trigger the disease, is more likely to arise as we age.
The condition can have profound psychosocial effects in both children and adults, leading to low self-esteem in some cases. Unfortunately, treatments for vitiligo are largely ineffective and even naturally healthy skin remedies for vitiligo tend to only help in slowing the spread of the condition rather than reversing the loss of pigmentation.
Autoimmune Disease and Vitiligo in Children
Most people who develop the condition do so before they are forty and although those with darker skin may notice the symptoms of vitiligo sooner the condition is thought to affect all races and genders equally. Children and adults with autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop vitiligo although many without such disease still suffer from the condition.
It is unknown why hyperthyroidism patients and others suffering from AI disease have a higher propensity for vitiligo although the suspicion is that an erroneous immune system response may occur to multiple cell types, including the melanocytes destroyed in vitiligo.
Family History and Vitiligo
When diagnosing vitiligo in children, doctors will look at medical history, results of physical examinations, and blood tests or other tests to determine the likelihood that skin manifestations are a result of this condition. If the child has family members diagnosed with vitiligo or autoimmune disease the likelihood of them also having this disease is increased.
Children who had a rash, sunburn, or other skin trauma prior to the development of patchy white skin, or who had a physical illness or period of emotional stress, are more likely to have developed vitiligo. Children who are sensitive to the sun are also more likely to develop vitiligo, as are adults whose hair turns grey before the age of thirty-five.
Diagnosing Vitiligo in Children
The diagnosis of vitiligo in children can be traumatic, particularly for small children who may not understand why procedures are necessary. A skin biopsy of the affected area may be taken for examination of the melanocytes. Children may also need blood tests and eye examinations in order to diagnose the condition and rule out other causes of the white skin patches.
Sun Safety for Children with Vitiligo
Children diagnosed with vitiligo will need to be taught sun-safety practices in excess of those required by their peers as the lack of melanocytes and pigmentation reduces their protection from ultraviolet rays. This increases the risk of skin cancer in children with vitiligo (as well as in adults), and increases the likelihood that skin burns even with short exposure to the sun.
Repeated sunburns lead to premature ageing of the skin, in addition to raising cancer risks, and so those with vitiligo from a young age may find that their skin thins, develops wrinkles, and loses elasticity faster than their peers.
Treating Children with Vitiligo
Treating vitiligo in children can be extremely effective, more so than in adult patients. Topical immunomodulators and steroid creams can help slow down the progression of the white skin patches and temporarily stop the body destroying the pigment-producing skin cells.
Narrow-band UVB therapy may also aid the maintenance of pigmentation in the skin. As the precise cause of vitiligo remains unknown it is difficult for dermatologists to prescribe treatments with any guarantee of efficacy.
Vitiligo Treatment Options
Many patients choose to use homemade skin stains, tattoos of pigmentation, or treatments to even out skin tone by destroying the melanocytes in the adjoining areas of skin. Such treatments are not generally considered appropriate for vitiligo in children due to their permanent effects and the use of rubbing alcohol in many homemade skin stains for vitiligo.
Children are less likely to wish to wear cover-up makeup either, although some do with the help of their parents. It is important to take time to carefully consider treatment options for children with vitiligo as some remedies have permanent or long-term consequences.