Diseases & Conditions


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Albinism


A rare inherited condition present at birth in all races, that is characterized by the partial or total lack of the pigment melanin that gives color to skin, eyes, and hair. Children with albinism often have visual problems, are prone to skin inflammation, suffer severe sunburn, and tend to develop skin cancer. The most common type of albinism affects hair, skin, and eyes; in the most severe form, hair and skin are snowy white throughout life. Less severely affected children may be born with white skin and hair that darkens slightly with age. Numerous freckles may develop on sun-exposed parts of the body. Whether mild or severe, the child’s eyes cannot tolerate bright lights and often have abnormal flickering movements or nearsightedness. More rare types of albinism affect only skin, hair, or the eyes. Less than 100,000 children in the United States and Europe are affected, although the prevalence is much higher in some parts of the world (about 20 per 100,000 in southern Nigeria, for instance). The most serious complication of the disease is the lack of melanin, which protects the skin against the harmful radiation in sunlight. Because the skin cannot tan, it ages prematurely and is prone to skin cancers.