Sunday, February 28, 2010

What? Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a relatively common, acquired loss of pigmentation of the skin, affecting 1% to 2% of the population.  Destruction of melanocytes, or pigment cells, occurs and the skin becomes white.  The most common sites of pigment loss are body folds (like the groin or armpits), around body openings, and exposed areas like the face or hands.  It can also develop at sites of injury: cuts, scrapes, and burns.
Vitiligo can begin at any age, but in half of all affected patients, its onset is noted before the age of 20.  It can be associated with a number of autoimmune conditions, such as thyroid disease and diabetes.  Most people with vitiligo are in good health and have no symptoms other than areas of pigment loss.  Although the precise cause is unknown, genetic factors, autoimmune factors, trauma to the skin and anxiety or stress can be associated.  Vitiligo is not infectious and cannot be spread to other people.  People with melanoma can occasionally develop vitiligo. Research on the cause continues.

What does vitiligo look like?
The diagnosis is based on clinical examination where asymptomatic white areas are present with well defined edges.  Lesions can be either local or general and the distribution is usually symmetrical.  White hairs can occur within an area of vitiligo and early graying or whitening of scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows and beard hair can also occur, as well also occur around  the eye.

Can vitiligo spread?
Vitiligo can remain localized and stable indefinitely, or it may progress slowly or rapidly.  There is no way to predict this.  Factors that have been suggested may include emotional distress, physical illness, severe sunburn, and pregnancy.  De-pigmented areas may sometimes spontaneously re-pigment.

The emotional impact of vitiligo
The cosmetic disfigurement, particularly in darker-skinned people, can have profound psychological effects.  Low self esteem, depression and job discrimination have been reported, and vitiligo can therefore ultimately alter lifestyles, create social barriers and limit employment opportunities.  It is therefore important to find treatment for these individuals.

Can my children inherit vitiligo?
There seems to be a hereditary component to vitiligo – 10% have a family history.  Many people do not realize that anyone in their family has even had vitiligo.  Children of people with vitiligo have a higher probability of developing vitiligo than children from families with no history of the condition.  This, however, does not mean that these children will definitely inherit vitiligo.  In most cases of vitiligo, there is no family history.

Is there a cure for vitiligo?
The answer at this time is no.  Vitiligo is probably caused by a variety of factors interacting in specific ways.  Research has advanced the understanding of the physical and psychosocial aspects of vitiligo, but the cause and cure are unknown. A specialist or dermatologist is the best person to assess and manage vitiligo. Unfortunately, the treatment of vitiligo is prolonged and progress is slow. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A word about Eczema

This has been one of the driest and coldest winters in a long time, so many of us are being plagued with all kinds of dry skin issues. Some of us have even have to deal with chronic skin conditions that are sometimes uncomfortable to look at as well as feel. Eczema is one term for several different types of skin scaling and rashes and is also called dermatitis. And although it is not dangerous, most types can cause red, swollen and itchy skin. Some factors that could cause eczema include: other diseases, irritating substances, allergies and your genetic makeup. Eczema, however, is not contagious, and you are more likely to have eczema if you have a family history of the condition.
Some forms of eczema can be triggered by substances that come in contact with the skin, such as soaps, cosmetics, clothing, detergents, jewelry, or sweat. Environmental allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) may also cause outbreaks of eczema. Changes in temperature or humidity, or even psychological stress, can lead to outbreaks of eczema in some people.

The most common type of eczema is called atopic dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction and is often very itchy. But when you scratch it, the skin becomes red and inflamed, and seems to get worse. This skin condition affects adults and children, but it is most common in babies. Although you cannot cure eczema,  you can prevent some types of eczema by avoiding irritants, stress, and the things you are allergic to. 

Limit your contact with things that can irritate your skin.
Some things that may irritate your skin include household cleansers, detergents, aftershave lotions, soap, gasoline, turpentine and other solvents. Try to avoid contact with things that make you break out with eczema. Soaps and wetness can cause skin irritation. Wash your hands only when necessary and use a mild soaps, especially if you have eczema on your hands. Dry your hands completely after you wash them.

Wear gloves to protect the skin on your hands
Wear vinyl or plastic gloves for work that requires you to have your hands in water. Also, wear gloves when your hands will be exposed to anything that can irritate your skin. Wear cotton gloves under plastic gloves to soak up sweat from your hands. Take occasional breaks and remove your gloves to prevent a buildup of sweat inside your gloves.
Wear gloves when you go outside during the winter. Cold air and low humidity can dry your skin, and dryness can make your eczema worse.

Wear clothes made of cotton or a cotton blend
Wool and some synthetic fabrics can irritate your skin. 
Use moisturizers that are more greasy than creamy, because these will evaporate less in drier conditions.
Regular use of a moisturizer can help prevent the dry skin that is common in winter.

Learn how to manage stress in your life
Eczema can flare up when you are under stress. Learn how to recognize and cope with stress.

Continue skin care even after your skin has healed
The area where you had the eczema may easily get irritated again, so it needs special care. Continue to follow these tips even after your skin has healed.

Monday, February 15, 2010


 About 2 months ago, I found out that a good friend of mine went to the doctor due to a nagging backache that would not go away: Upon being examined by the physician, she was immediately admitted into the  hospital. As fate would have it, a tumor was found growing on her spine, and they discovered along with it that she had a  melanoma on her back that had grown into a stage 4!

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. At least 40 percent of all Americans who live to be 65 will be diagnosed with skin cancer at least once in their lives. Fortunately, most skin cancers are not serious and the vast majority can be cured, usually by simple procedures performed in a doctor's office. But this does not mean that skin cancer is something that people do not need to take seriously. If skin cancer is not detected and treated promptly, it can spread. (like my friend's) At the very least, this means that more extensive surgery, leading to greater scarring, will be needed. In the worst case, it can mean serious complications. Some types of skin cancer, especially melanoma, can be fatal.
So, here is some information about the 3 types of skin cancers and what they look like, but also, I encourage EVERYONE to get skin screenings annually. 
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common of the 3 types of skin cancer, and the easiest to treat because it almost never spreads. Basal cell carcinoma is generally characterized by either a waxy bump that can appear on your face or neck, or a brown or flesh-colored mark that looks like a scar on your back or chest. In most cases of basal cell carcinoma, the damaged tissue is removed by either freezing or cutting out the tissue. It is generally done right in the doctor’s office with a local anesthesia, and involves minimal discomfort.
Signs of basal cell carcinoma
1)An open sore that sheds blood, oozes out or crusts, and continues to stay open for three or more weeks. A lasting, non-healing sore is a very usual early manifestation.
2) A reddish patch or an irritated area, frequently occurring on the chest, shoulders, arms or legs. Sometimes the patch crusts. It may also itch or hurt. At additional times, it persists without any detectable discomfort.
3) A smooth growth with an elevated, rolled border and an indentation in the center. As the growth slowly enlarges, tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface.
4) A shiny bump (or nodule) that is pearly or translucent and is frequently pink, red or white. The bump can also be tan, black or brown, especially in dark-haired people, and can be confused with a mole.
5) A scar-like area (white, yellow, or waxy in appearance) which often has poorly delineated borders. The skin itself seems shiny or taut. Although a less frequent sign, it can indicate the presence of an aggressive tumor.
Squamous Cell Skin Cancer Carcinoma
This is the second most common of the 3 types of skin cancers, and is often as easy to treat as basal cell carcinomas. However, squamous cell skin cancer carcinoma is slightly more likely to spread to other areas, usually to the surrounding tissue of the skin. The squamous cell skin cancer is characterized by a red nodule that can appear on your face, neck, hands or arms. This bump is generally firm to the touch, and can also show up on your lips or ears. It can also look like a scaly, crusty lesion that will appear on the same areas.
 Squamous Cell Skin Cancer signs
1)A persistent, scaly red patch with atypical borders that occasionally crusts or bleeds.
2)An open sore that bleeds and crusts and endures for weeks.
3)An raised growth with a central depression that on occasion bleeds. A growth of this type may rapidly increase in size.
4)A wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.

Melanoma is the least common of the types of skin cancer, but it can become the most serious if left untreated. Of the 3 types of skin cancers, this is the one that can spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes and other organs. When it spreads (metastasizes) in this manner, it becomes significantly more difficult to treat. That is why early detection of melanoma symptoms is so important, and why you should get into your doctor every year for regular skin cancer screenings.
Melanoma symptoms sometimes are referred to as ABCDE:
  • A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
  • B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — the characteristics of melanomas.
  • C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters).
  • E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and melanoma symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.