What is albinism?
Albinism includes a group of inherited disorders that are characterized by little or no production of the pigment melanin. The type and amount of melanin your body produces determines the color of your skin, hair and eyes. Most people with albinism are sensitive to sun exposure and are at increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Although there’s no cure for albinism, people with the disorder can take steps to protect their skin and maximize their vision. Some people with albinism may feel socially isolated or experience discrimination.
How common is albinism?
Albinism can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of albinism?
Signs of albinism are usually, but not always, apparent in a person’s skin, hair and eye color. However, all people with the disorder experience vision problems.
Skin: Although the most recognizable form of albinism results in white hair and pinkish skin, skin coloring (pigmentation) can range from white to brown, and may be nearly the same as that of parents or siblings without albinism.
For some people with albinism, skin pigmentation never changes. For others, melanin production may begin or increase during childhood and the teen years, resulting in slight changes in pigmentation. With exposure to the sun, some people may develop:
- Moles, with or without pigment — moles without pigment are generally pink-colored
- Large freckle-like spots (lentigines)
- The ability to tan
Hair: Hair color can range from very white to brown. People of African or Asian descent who have albinism may have hair color that’s yellow, reddish or brown. Hair color may also darken by early adulthood.
Eye color: Eye color can range from very light blue to brown and may change with age. The lack of pigment in the colored part of the eyes (irises) makes them somewhat translucent. This means that the irises can’t completely block light from entering the eye. Because of this, very light-colored eyes may appear red in some lighting. This occurs because you’re seeing light reflected off the back of the eye and passing back out through the iris again — similar to the red-eye that occurs in a flash photo.
Vision: Signs and symptoms of albinism related to eye function include:
- Rapid, involuntary back-and-forth movement of the eyes (nystagmus)
- Inability of both eyes to stay directed at the same point or to move in unison (strabismus)
- Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Abnormal curvature of the front surface of your eye or the lens inside your eye (astigmatism), which causes blurred vision
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Contact your doctor if:
- Your child lacks pigment in his or her hair or skin at birth that affects the eyelashes and eyebrows — as is often the case in infants with albinism — your doctor will likely order an eye exam and closely follow any changes in your child’s pigmentation.
- Your child at 3 to 4 months of age experience rapid back-and-forth shifting (nystagmus) in the eyes.
- Your child with albinism experiences frequent nosebleeds, easy bruising or chronic infections. These signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of Hermansky-Pudlak or Chediak-Higashi syndromes, which are rare but serious genetic disorders.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes albinism?
Albinism is caused by a mutation in one of several genes. Each of these genes provides instructions for making one of several proteins involved in the production of melanin. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes, which are found in your skin and eyes. A mutation may result in no melanin at all or a significant decline in the amount of melanin.
In some types of albinism, a person must inherit two copies of a mutated gene — one from each parent — in order to have albinism (recessive inheritance).
What increases my risk for albinism?
Albinism is an inherited genetic condition. The affected individuals demonstrate significant family history, which is a risk factor for this condition to develop.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is albinism diagnosed?
A complete diagnostic work-up for albinism includes a:
- Physical exam
- Description of changes in pigmentation
- Thorough exam of the eyes
- Comparison of your child’s pigmentation to that of other family members
A medical doctor specializing in vision and eye disorders (ophthalmologist) should conduct your child’s eye exam. The exam will include an assessment of potential nystagmus, strabismus and photophobia. The doctor will also use a device to visually inspect the retina and determine if there are signs of abnormal development. A simple test can measure the brain waves produced when light or a reversing pattern is flashed into each eye. This can indicate the presence of misrouted optical nerves.
If your child has only one eye impairment, such as nystagmus, another condition may be the cause. Disorders other than albinism can affect skin pigmentation, but these don’t cause all of the visual problems associated with albinism.
How is albinism treated?
Because albinism is a genetic disorder, treatment is limited. But getting proper eye care and monitoring skin for signs of abnormalities are especially important to your child’s health.
- Your child will most likely need to wear prescription lenses, and he or she should receive annual eye exams by an ophthalmologist. Although surgery is rarely part of treatment for albinism, your ophthalmologist may recommend surgery on optical muscles to minimize nystagmus. Surgery to correct strabismus may make the condition less noticeable, but it won’t improve vision.
- Your doctor should conduct an annual assessment of your child’s skin to screen for skin cancer or lesions that can lead to cancer. Adults with albinism need annual eye and skin exams throughout their lives.
- People with Hermansky-Pudlak and Chediak-Higashi syndromes usually require regular specialized care to prevent complications.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage albinism?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with Albinism:
- Use low vision aids, such as a hand-held magnifying glass, a monocular or a magnifier that attaches to glasses.
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 that protects against both UVA and UVB light.
- Avoid high-risk sun exposure, such as being outside in the middle of the day, at high altitudes, and on sunny days with thin cloud cover.
- Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants and broad-rimmed hats.
- Protect eyes by wearing dark, UV-blocking sunglasses or transition lenses that darken in bright light
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Albinism. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/albinism/basics/definition/con-20029935. Accessed 5 Jun 2017
- Albinism: Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/245861.php. Accessed 5 Jun 2017
- Albinism. http://www.healthline.com/health/albinism. Accessed 5 Jun 2017
Review Date: June 26, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019