MIAMI, Fla. - When David Bialski decided to shave off his beard one day, he was surprised to see white patches of skin on his face.
"I was like, 'What's this?'" he said.
It was a skin condition called vitiligo, which affects one out of every 100 people in the United States.
As the patches spread, Bialski became more concerned.
"I started getting really frustrated because I started getting it on my forehead," he said.
Dermatologist Dr. Leyda Bowes said that vitiligo appears to be the result of an auto-immune response where the body starts attacking its own melanocytes, the cells that produce brown pigment.
"Many patients with vitiligo have a genetic predisposition to developing it, so more than one family member has vitiligo. But many times vitiligo happens for the first time in the affected person and has no genetic predisposition," Bowes said.
Vitiligo may affect just a few small areas, or large sections all over the body in severe cases.
"It's very disturbing emotionally for many patients and it's a condition for which we do not have a simple cure," said Bowes.
Treatments focus on calming the inflammatory response with topical products containing steroids or prescription medications.
Phototherapy with ultraviolet light and treatments with a device called the Excimer laser can also help.
"If we can successfully gain the pigment back it usually stays. That doesn't mean the patient might not get a new patch elsewhere, but that patch that has re-pigmented successfully usually will stay pigmented," said Bowes.
Bialski is grateful that he's responding well to laser treatment.
"In less than eight treatments, I saw amazing results," he said.
It's important that people with vitiligo avoid the sun and always wear sunscreen when outdoors.
To reach Dr. Leyda Bowes, call 305-856-6555.
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