I had a childhood friend who had snow white hair, white skin, and yes, she looked a little different from most of us. She could not be in the sun like us and had a few health problems. I remember that as I would be speaking to her, she would look me in the eye as if to give me her full attention. As I would look back at her eyes, it was simply amazing to watch her eyes have involuntary back and forth movements. She was a great girl and everyone enjoyed her friendship. Our parents would try to explain to us that she was an albino.
Albinism affects 1 in every 17,000 people and is a medical condition characterized by the lack of an essential pigment called melanin, which lends color to the skin, eyes and hair.
The melanin pigment varies from very little to none. This means the lack of the color pigment is why those suffering from this condition appear to have pale skin and very light eyes and hair.
A particular form of this condition is known as ocular albinism and affects the eyes, which is found to be more common among males. There are a variety of other vision problems accompanying this condition with impaired vision, photophobia sensitivity to light and involuntary movements of the eye.
The main cause of albinism is believed to be genetic mutations and the most common form is occulocutaneous albinism.
Because of the paleness, the condition is very obvious when the child is born and the diagnosis of albinism is confirmed. Infants seem, in the beginning, to appear slower than other infants due to the visual problems, but they later develop the ability to cope and supplement their vision. Other senses are usually much more alert and with one person I know, she has an exceptionally good memory in lieu of the vision and being declared legally blind.
The skin is extremely sensitive to sun and will burn easily, especially the top of the head. This can cause them to be more susceptible to skin cancer. This condition varies from individual to individual and even among siblings.
Albinism is untreatable because the main cause of this disease is present at the genetic level. Any eye and skin problems, as a result of albinism can be treated by the correct approach. Surprisingly enough, this condition does not affect a person’s social development.
This is a condition that does not get worse over time and doesn’t exhibit any changes to the life expectancy of the individual. As long as the person is conscientious about protecting their skin from the sun, they should have no major problems other than visual that might limit their activities and possible ability to drive a car.
This is not contagious and cannot be transferred to anyone in anyway. Plant and animals can also suffer with this condition. All in all, they can lead a normal, social and work life, with visual help for those suffering with very low vision.
Dr Fredda Branyon