There are a lot of misconceptions revolving around vitiligo, a condition characterised by milky-white patches on the skin. Since misconceptions give rise to doubts and false beliefs, knowing the right facts can help. 

Read on to understand 10 such myths and facts about vitiligo.

Myth 1: Vitiligo and leucoderma are the same.

Fact: Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that appears without any pre-existing conditions. While on the other hand, leucoderma is a symptom or an after-effect of conditions or diseases such as vitiligo, lichen sclerosis, systemic sclerosis, post-traumatic scarring, etc. It is a visible result of epidermal melanin (skin pigment) loss.

Myth 2: Consumption of certain foods causes vitiligo.

Fact: No. Over many years, a lot of people have believed that eating white coloured food items or sour foods like citrus; or drinking milk shortly after eating fish causes vitiligo. However, there is no scientific evidence to prove the above theory. 

Moreover, there is no evidence to prove that diet has an impact on the severity of the condition. Vitiligo is known to occur with the same incidence across all populations with different dietary habits. 

Myth 3: Vitiligo is contagious.

Fact: No, it is not contagious. It does not spread through close contact, touch, sharing personal items, saliva, etc. 

It is not related to disorders such as leprosy, albinism or skin cancer (also known as melanoma).

Myth 4: Vitiligo is 100% curable.

Fact: Can’t say. It is an unpredictable condition. The treatment is difficult, slow and not all patients respond similarly. There are different types of vitiligo with varying percent of durability. 

The segment type usually responds to surgical treatment and can be considered as completely cured, though more long-term studies are needed to prove this. The generalized type is expected to recur and a 100% cure rate cannot be guaranteed.

Myth 5: Vitiligo is very hard to diagnose.

Vitiligo is a fairly straightforward clinical diagnosis. The diagnosis is based on the characteristic features of the skin lesions (hypopigmented, non-scaly, chalky white macules with distinct margins and of typical distribution pattern). 

A ‘wood’s lamp’ examination is often used to facilitate the diagnosis of vitiligo. A skin biopsy can be done though not necessary to exclude other possible causes. 

Often your doctor may recommend a few laboratory tests such as thyroid function test and TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibodies) levels as most vitiligo patients also happen to suffer from a thyroid disorder.

Myth 6: Phototherapy (NB-UVB) treatment is not safe.

Fact: Since the late 1990s, narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) has become the gold standard in the medical management of vitiligo. Since the development of skin cancer in vitiligo patients appears to be rare, the long-term risk of carcinogenesis with NB-UVB use in vitiligo patients is comparatively lesser than its other indications. 

In white patients, up to 200 sessions are considered to be safe. In brown skin or south Asian population, no similar data exists. The clinical experience with NB-UVB is limited and needs more work. 

According to the current treatment protocol, the responsive patients can receive phototherapy for up to a maximum of 12 months followed by 3 months of rest and then continue for another 12 months. In children, the maximum duration is recommended for 12 months.  

Overall, NB-UVB treatment is an effective, safe and well-tolerated treatment option for vitiligo patients if taken under a proper protocol. 

Myth 7: Vitiligo is uncommon in the Indian population.

Fact: Vitiligo, an autoimmune disease, has an incidence rate of 0.25 to 2.25% all over India with peak onset of symptoms in individuals younger than 21 years of age.

Myth 8: Vitiligo sufferers are inferior in physical or mental capabilities. 

Fact: Vitiligo is an exclusive skin disorder and is in no way related to physical or mental dysfunctionality. 

Myth 9: All white patches are vitiligo. 

No, all white patches are not vitiligo. There is a big list of all white spot disorders. A few possible causes of white patches are- nevus, post-burns, leprosy, tinea versicolor (fungal infection), etc.   

Myth 10: Genetics plays an important role in vitiligo. 

Fact: Yes, a few studies in India and worldwide have reported a strong association between family history of autoimmune diseases (such as vitiligo, type 1 diabetes, pernicious anaemia, etc.) and occurrence of vitiligo (up to 30% of cases based on the degree of relation).

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.