Albinism is a rare genetic disorder characterized by a partial or complete absence of pigmentation in the skin, hair, and the eyes. The condition was first discovered as a disease by Sir Archibald Garrod, an English physician. Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation affecting an enzyme involved in the production of the pigment melanin. Albino people have extremely light skin and hair. They are sensitive to sun exposure and are at increased risk of developing skin cancer.
The symptoms of albinism are detected as early as a child is born. The symptoms can be observed in the skin, hair, and the eyes. Below are the symptoms of albinism.
- The skin pigmentation of infants born with albinism does not change even if they grow up. Melanin production in normal infants may begin or increase during childhood and adolescence resulting to slight changes in their pigmentation.
- When the child is exposed to sun, he or she could develop freckles, freckle-like spots, and moles (with or without pigment). The skin can also be tanned by the sun. An albino person should minimize his exposure to the sun to avoid developing skin diseases. Melanin, which an albino lacks, protects the skin cells from the damaging effects of the sun.
- The hair color of individuals with albinism ranges from very white to brown. Albinos born with Asian or African descent may have hair color that is yellow, reddish, or brown.
- The eye color of people with albinism ranges from very light blue to brown and may change with age. Albinos have little pigmentation in the irises of their eyes. As a result, the irises may not completely block light from entering the eye.
- Albinos have the condition called nystagmus, which is the rapid involuntary back-and-forth movement of the eyes.
- Strabismus or lack of coordination between the eyes is also a symptom of albinism. A person with strabismus has eyes that look in different locations and do not focus at the same time on a single point.
- Extreme farsightedness or nearsightedness can also be observed in an albino person.
- Photobia or light sensitivity is a common symptom of albinism.
- Astigmatism is another eye disorder observed in people with albinism.
- Caucasian parents may not easily detect albinism in their new born child based on skin and hair color. The best way to detect albinism is to observe nystagmus in your child’s eyes. As mentioned above, it is the rapid involuntary back-and-forth shifting in the eyes.
- If you observe any of these symptoms of albinism in your child, visit your doctor and let him/her check your child.