Albinism & Skin Colour

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Albinism is a group of diseases in which there is a problem with the body’s ability to produce melanin which gives skin its colour. Usually these diseases have either a reduction in melanin or a complete lack of it. There are different kinds of albinism which are classed by different gene mutations. These gene mutations affect different parts of the pathway responsible for melanin production. This results in different amounts of melanin produced in each disorder. The light skin colour caused by albinism is called hypopigmentation.

What is oculocutaneous albinism?

Oculocutaneous albinism occurs when there is a decrease or lack of melanin in the skin, as well in the hair and the eyes. People suffering from this type of albinism will have pale skin and an increased risk of developing skin cancer in the future. Oculocutaneous albinism can be further divided into different types depending of the specific genetic mutation.

What is ocular albinism?

In ocular albinism there are changes in pigmentation in the eyes but not in the skin or the hair. There are two kinds of ocular albinism defined by different genetic mutations.

What are the consequences of albinism?

Melanin usually absorbs UV light and protects the skin from the damage that this can cause. Without any melanin in the skin, people with albinism are sensitive to sunlight and burn easily.

Without melanin present, areas of the eye, such as the fovea which is part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision, cannot develop properly. Areas of the eye other than the fovea usually develop normally. This area of research currently needs more investigation as it is unknown how much melanin is required for normal eye development.

Who can get albinism?

Albinism affects people of both sexes and all races. It is a congenital disease which means that you are usually born with the condition. In the United States around 1 in 17,000 people have some kind of albinism. The most common kind of oculocutaneous albinism is most frequently found in African Americans and Africans.

Can albinism cause mortality?

Usually people with albinism live for a normal length of time. They also have a normal health and normal intelligence.

There are risks associated with albinism such as vision problems, sensitivity of the skin to sun and an increased risk of developing skin cancer. People with albinism can also suffer from a condition called strabismus. Strabismus is where the eyes are not properly aligned with each other. There could be social problems due to the different appearance of people with albinism to their family and friends.

What are the treatments for albinism?

There are currently no effective treatments for albinism and it cannot be cured.

Glasses can be used to help with the vision problems suffered by people with albinism. Tinted glasses can help to reduce the sensitivity of the eyes to the sun, as can wearing hats. Strabismus can be treated with the use of eye patches at a young age as well as surgery.

Contact with direct sunlight should be avoided and sunscreen should be worn, as well as protective clothing.

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