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  • Writer's pictureDr Ronnie Katureebe


Vitiligo is a disease that causes loss of skin colour in patches. The discoloured areas usually get bigger with time. The condition can affect the skin on any part of the body. It can also affect hair and the inside of the mouth. The condition occurs when melanocytes (the skin cells that produce melanin, the chemical that gives skin its colour, or pigmentation) are destroyed by the body’s immune system.

In most cases, it develops early in life, between ages 10 and 30. It will almost always show up before age 40.

Vitiligo may run in families. You're more likely to get it when someone else in your family has it, too, or when people in your family get gray hair prematurely. Autoimmune diseases, such as autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto's thyroiditis) or type 1 diabetes can also raise your odds.


Although the causes of vitiligo aren’t completely understood, there are a number of different theories:

Autoimmune disorder: The affected person’s immune system may develop antibodies that destroy melanocytes.

Genetic factors: Certain factors that may increase the chance of getting vitiligo can be inherited. About 30% of vitiligo cases run in families.

Neurogenic factors: A substance that is toxic to melanocytes may be released at nerve endings in the skin.

Self-destruction: A defect in the melanocytes causes them to destroy themselves.

Vitiligo may also be triggered by certain events, such as physical or emotional stress. Because none of the explanations seem to completely account for the condition, it’s possible that a combination of these factors is responsible for vitiligo.


These include the following:

Patches of skin lose color. This can include the eyes and/or the mucous membranes in your mouth or nose.

Patches of hair on your head or face turn prematurely gray or white.


There is no cure for vitiligo. The goal of medical treatment is to create a uniform skin tone by either restoring colour (repigmentation) or eliminating the remaining colour (depigmentation). Common treatments include camouflage therapy, repigmentation therapy, light therapy and surgery. Counselling may also be recommended.

Camouflage therapy:

  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Also, the sunscreen should shield ultraviolet B light and ultraviolet A light (UVB and UVA). The use of sunscreens minimizes tanning, thereby limiting the contrast between affected and normal skin.

  • Hair dyes if vitiligo affects the hair.

  • Depigmentation therapy with the drug monobenzone can be used if the disease is extensive. This medication is applied to pigmented patches of skin and will turn them white to match the areas of vitiligo.

Repigmentation therapy:

  • Corticosteroids can be taken orally (as a pill) or topically (as a cream put on the skin). Results may take up to 3 months. A doctor will monitor the patient for any side effects, which can include skin thinning or striae (stretch marks) if used for a prolonged period.

  • Topical vitamin D analogs.

  • Topical immunomodulators such as calcineurin inhibitors.

Light therapy:

  • Narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) requires two to three treatment sessions per week for several months.

  • Excimer lasers emit a wavelength of ultraviolet light close to that of narrow-band UVB. This is better for patients who do not have widespread or large lesions since it is delivered to small, targeted areas.

  • Combining oral psoralen and UVA (PUVA) is used to treat large areas of skin with vitiligo. This treatment is said to be very effective for people with vitiligo in the areas of the head, neck, trunk, upper arms and legs.


Autologous (from the patient) skin grafts: Skin is taken from one part of the patient and used to cover another part. Possible complications include scarring, infection or a failure to repigment. This might also be called mini grafting.

Micropigmentation: A type of tattooing that is usually applied to the lips of people affected by vitiligo.


Vitiligo can cause psychological distress and has the ability to affect a person’s outlook and social interactions. If this happens, your caregiver may suggest that you find a counsellor or attend a support group.

To find out how we can help relieve vitiligo, contact us for an appointment. Our facility is safe and open find us at Kampala Dermatology Skin Clinic Bandali Rise Bugolobi.

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