What is albinism?
Albinism is a rare collection of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no colour. Albinism is also associated with vision problems. According to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, approximately 1 in 18,000 to 20,000 people in the United States has a form of albinism.
Types of albinism
Different genetic defects characterize the numerous types of albinism. The types of albinism include:
Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA)
OCA affects the skin, hair, and eyes. There are several subtypes of OCA:
OCA1 is due to a flaw in the tyrosinase enzyme. There are two subtypes of OCA1:
- OCA1a: Individuals with OCA1a have a whole absence of melanin. This is the pigment that gives colour to the skin, eyes, and hair. People with this subtype have snowy hair, very light skin, and light eyes.
- OCA1b: People with OCA1b make some melanin. They have light-coloured skin, hair, and eyes. Their colouration may increase as they age.
OCA2 is less severe than OCA1. It is due to a defect in the OCA2 gene that results in reduced melanin production. People with OCA2 are born with fair skin and colour. Their hair can be yellow, blonde, or light brown. OCA2 is more common in people of African descent and Native Americans.
OCA3 is a defect in the TYRP1 gene. It usually affects dark-skinned people, particularly black South Africans. Persons with OCA3 consume reddish-brown skin, reddish hair, and hazel or brown eyes.
OCA4 is due to a flaw in the SLC45A2 protein. It produces minimal melanin production and usually occurs in people of East Asian descent. People with OCA4 have symptoms similar to those of people with OCA2.
Ocular albinism is the result of a genetic mutation on the X chromosome and occurs almost exclusively in men. This type of albinism only affects the eyes. People with this type have normal hair, skin, and eye colour, but no colour in the retina (the back of the eye).
This syndrome is a rare form of albinism that is due to a defect in one of the eight genes. It produces symptoms similar to those of OCA. The syndrome occurs with lung, intestinal, and bleeding disorders.
Chediak-Higashi syndrome is an additional rare form of albinism that is the consequence of a defect in the LYST gene. It crops symptoms similar to OCA, but may not touch all areas of the skin. Hair is usually brown or blonde with a silver sheen. The skin is usually creamy white to greyish in colour. People with this syndrome have a defect in white blood cells, which increases the risk of infections.
Griscelli syndrome is an extremely rare genetic disorder. It is due to a defect in one of the three genes. There have only been 60 known cases of this syndrome worldwide since 1978. It occurs with albinism (but may not affect the whole body), immune problems, and neurological problems. Griscelli syndrome usually causes death within the first decade of life.
Causes of albinism
Albinism is inherited. It’s not contagious – you can’t “catch” it from someone else. People are born with albinism because they receive an albinism gene or genes from their parents. In the most shared forms of oculocutaneous albinism, both parents must carry the albinism gene for a youngster to be born with the condition. Even if both parents transmit the gene, the chance of each of their children being born with albinism is one in four.
If just one parent has the gene and the other parent has a standard pigment gene, their broods won’t have oculocutaneous albinism. But each child will have a one in two accidental of being a “carrier” of an albinism gene. If a child who carries the gene grows up to have a baby with someone who also does, there’s a one in four accidental that their baby may have albinism. Since most people who carry an albinism gene don’t show any signs of the disorder, a baby with this disease can be born to parents whose complexion is typical for people of their ethnic group.
The most common form of ocular albinism touches only males who have inherited an albinism gene from their mothers. Some ladies can have a milder form of the illness if they have inherited this gene.
Symptoms of albinism
The main symptoms of albinism can affect skin, hair, eye colour, and vision.
The clearest sign is a lighter skin tone, but skin tone does not continually differ substantially. In some people, melanin levels rise slowly over time, darkening the skin tone as the personages. Skin is likely to burn easily in the sun. He does not usually tan.
After sun exposure, some people with this disease can develop:
- Moles, usually pink in colour due to the reduced amount of pigment
- Lentigines, large freckle-like spots
There is also an increased risk of skin cancer. People should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher and report any new moles or other skin changes to a doctor.
This can vary in colour from white to brown. Those of African or Asian ancestry tend to have yellow, brown, or reddish hair. As the separate ages, their hair colour may slowly darken.
This can also change with age and ranges from very light blue to brown. Low levels of melanin in the iris mean that the eyes may appear slightly translucent and, in some light, appear red or pink as the light reflects off the retina at the back of the eye. The lack of pigment prevents the iris from completely blocking sunlight. This results in sensitivity to light, known as photosensitivity.
It always affects vision. Changes in eye function can include:
- Nystagmus: The eyes move rapidly and uncontrollably back and forth.
- Strabismus: The eyes do not work in unison.
- Amblyopia: Also known as “lazy eye”.
- Nearsighted or farsighted: The person may be extremely nearsighted or farsighted.
- Photophobia: The eyes are particularly sensitive to light.
- Optic Nerve Hypoplasia: Visual impairment can result from an underdeveloped optic nerve.
- Incorrect routing of the optic nerve: Nerve signals from the retina to the brain follow unusual nerve paths.
- Astigmatism: An abnormal inflexibility of the front surface of the eye or lens causes blurred vision.
Strategies that can help include:
- Placement of special telescopic lenses attached to glasses.
- Using a large computer screen or high contrast media
- Install software that converts text to speech
- Using a brightly coloured ball when playing
Vision problems connected to albinism tend to be inferior in newborns but improve rapidly during the first 6 months of life. However, eye health problems are likely to persist.
Diagnosis of albinism
This is usually obvious from the appearance of a baby when it is born. Your baby’s hair, skin, and eyes may be examined for signs of a lack of pigment. Since it can cause several eye problems, your baby may be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for testing. Electrodiagnostic tests are also sometimes used to help diagnose albinism. This is where tiny electrodes are attached to the scalp to test the eye’s connections to the part of the brain that controls vision.
Treatment of albinism
- It is not curable: The emphasis of treatment is to achieve your symptoms or related conditions.
- Surgery or glasses: They can correct strabismus or crossed eyes, which often accompany albinism. This is when your eyes are not aligned or pointed in different directions.
- Low vision aids: Small telescopes that attach to glasses can help you see far away objects better. Microscopes or magnifying glasses do the same with closer things. Tinted glasses or contact lenses can ease your sensitivity to light.
Complications of albinism
This can contain skin and eye complications, as well as social and emotional challenges.
- Eye complications
- Vision problems can affect learning, employment, and the ability to drive.
- Skin complications
People with this have skin that is very sensitive to light and sun contact. Sunburns are one of the most serious complications associated with this disease because they can increase the risk of developing skin cancer and skin thickening related to sun damage.
Social and emotional challenges
Some people may experience discrimination. Other people’s reactions to people with this disease can often hurt people with the disease. People may knowledge bullying, teasing, or questions about their appearance, glasses, or visual aids. They usually look very different from members of their own families or ethnic groups, so they may feel like strangers or be treated like strangers. These experiences can contribute to social isolation, low self-esteem, and stress.
It is preferable to use the term “person with albinism” to avoid the stigma of other terms.
If a family member has this, a genetic counsellor can help you understand the type and the chances of having a future child with this disease. She can also explain the tests available to you.
It is an inherited disorder that is present at birth. Children are at risk of existence born if they have parents with parentages who carry the gene for albinism.