Table of Contents
For all of you who don’t know, an albino is a person who has partially or completely lost the pigmentation of their eyes, skin and hair. The condition is called albinism and is basically a group of genetic disorders some people are afflicted with.
It can happen to anyone, of any race but is naturally most obvious in the races with dark skin and hair. The cases and prominence is less in case of people with light-colored eyes and hair.
It is in fact often overlooked amongst Caucasians, especially those of northern European descent. Besides the loss of pigmentation, all albinos suffer from visual problems too.
There are two main types of albinism which are:
- Ocular albinism
Ocular albinism is the rarer of the two where only the sufferer’s eye’s pigmentation is affected. This albinism type is not common amongst women either.
- Oculocutaneous albinism
People suffering from oculocutaneous albinism suffer from some degree of pigmentation of the eyes, hair and skin. The condition is also called OCA, and is the genetic disorder that affects most albinos.
It is the melanocytes, the melanin cells in the body, which give your hair, skin and eyes its pigmentation. Albinos also have melanocytes like all of us. However genetic mutations in their bodies interfere with the pigment production or its ability to distribute the cells to the outer skin layer.
Albinism symptoms include:
- Reduction in the skin and hair pigmentation
- Eyes appearing translucent and even red because of lack of pigmentation in the eye and light reflecting from the retina
- Eye problems like far-sightedness, near-sightedness, lazy eye, nystagamus ( involuntary eye movements) or strabismus or crossed eyes
How does albinism in the eye effect vision?
Albinos are declared legally blind people because their photoreceptors or retina cells that detect light, get oversaturated with light. This is why you see nystagmus in an albino’s eyes, where the confusing visual stimuli lead to their eyes practically jumping in excitement. The cells thus end up sending confusing messages to the brain.
What are the other conditions albinos are susceptible to?
The loss of pigmentation in the skin puts albinos in a much higher risk to contracting non-melanoma skin cancers in keratinocytes. This is because the melanocytes naturally protect the nucleus and inner DNA from the sun’s UV radiation.
This also puts albinos at a higher risk of contracting squamuous cell carcinoma (the outermost skin layer cancer) and basal cell carcinoma that attacks the innermost skin layers.
Albinos may also see their skin aging at a quicker pace. This is because the skin’s melanin does not help block UV radiation, so there is no means of helping at reducing the formation of wrinkles or even curb the skin’s elasticity breakdown.
Can albinism be treated?
No unfortunately there is no treatment for the condition. However people with albino relatives can seek an appointment with a genetic counselor if they suspect they may be a carrier.
They can conduct genetic tests to reveal the risks of delivering an albino, and there are tests to determine if a fetus has inherited albinism genes.
There are some treatments for the eye problems caused by the disorder. Albinos need corrective lenses and special eyeglasses called ‘bioptics’. These specs contain both bifocal and telescopic lens that is helpful to those with extremely poor vision.
There are also surgeries that can be performed to correct or improve eye conditions like lazy or crossed eyes. An ophthalmologist will ascertain the best treatment for the eye condition.
All albinos should protect themselves from the sun and wear at least 80 SPF sunscreens when they go outdoors. They should also avoid doing any extra outdoor work when the sun is brightest especially on really hot days.
Wearing hats, sunglasses and other sun-protective clothing, along with umbrellas all help. In fact, sun glasses can help both indoors and outdoors for light sensitivity and glare while vision aids like magnifying glasses and adjustable reading lights help.
However there is some research going on for a cure. Researchers are coming up with drugs or therapies that which are injected into the cells to help correct the DNA mutations responsible for albinism. They have so far only experienced results in mice hair and skin, and have a long way to go before they find results in humans.
5 interesting facts about albinism
- Did you know that albinos were once persecuted, and even murdered in parts of Africa because they are considered to be bad luck and carry evil and magical powers? These practices have however been brought to a stop now thanks to human rights organizations for albinism and the media.
- Did you know that while there’s 1 in 17,000 people in the U.S. suffering from albinism, the incidence is much higher in East Africa, about 1 in 3,000? It’s probably because the oldest mutation cause albinism, the mutation in OCA1 had originated in Africa.
- Did you know that albinos were once stereotyped to have some mental illness or retardation, even though there’s no relation between the two? Albinos need special education not because of any mental illnesses but because of their severe visual problems.
- Did you know that even animals suffer from albinism? There are albino animals, but not as many as humans. They have a short lifespan because of their vision problems and lack of camouflage against predators.
- Did you now that even plans can have albinism? However they do not last longer than 10 days. This is because they require pigmentation or chlorophyll for metabolism.