Albinism is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations of certain genes that affect the amount of melanin your body produces. Melanin controls the pigmentation (color) of your skin, eyes and hair. People with albinism have extremely pale skin, eyes and hair. They are at an increased risk of vision, skin and social issues.
Albinism is a rare genetic disorder where you aren’t born with the usual amount of melanin pigment. Melanin is a chemical in your body that determines the color of your skin, hair and eyes. Most people with albinism have very pale skin, hair and eyes. They are prone to sunburn and skin cancer. Melanin also is involved in optical nerve development, so you may have vision problems.
Albinism can affect people of all races and all ethnic groups. In the U.S., about one in every 18,000 to 20,000 people has some type of albinism. In other parts of the world, the ratio is one in every 3,000 people.
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The word albino comes from the Latin word “albus,” which means white. People with albinism are sometimes called albinos. “A person with albinism” is the preferred term.
Albinism isn’t a disease. Albinism is a genetic condition that people are born with. It’s not contagious, and it can’t be spread.
There are several different types of albinism. Levels of pigmentation vary depending on which type of albinism you have. The different types of albinism include:
Albinism is caused by mutations in specific genes that are responsible for melanin production.
Yes, albinism is passed down (inherited) through families. People are born with albinism when they inherit an albinism gene from their parents.
In oculocutaneous albinism, both parents must carry an albinism gene for their child to be born with albinism. The child has a 1 in 4 chance of being born with albinism. If just one parent has an albinism gene, the child won’t have oculocutaneous albinism. But they’ll have a 50% chance of being a carrier of the gene themselves.
People with albinism may experience the following symptoms:
Your healthcare provider may do a physical exam and examine your skin, hair and eyes. However, a genetic test will provide the most accurate results and help determine which gene is mutated. This DNA test will help determine which type of albinism you have.
There is no cure for albinism. You must manage the condition by being vigilant about sun protection. You can protect your skin, hair and eyes by:
If you have crossed eyes (strabismus), a surgeon may be able to correct the issue with surgery.
Albinism is an inherited condition. People with a family history of albinism should consider genetic counseling.
People with albinism may experience any of the following complications:
Most people with albinism live a normal life span. People with Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome and Chediak-Higashi syndrome are at an increased risk of a shortened life span due to associated conditions.
People with albinism can lead normal, healthy lives. However, you should limit the amount of time you spend outdoors due to sun exposure. Some people with albinism deal with social isolation due to the stigma of the condition. You should talk to your family, friends and therapists for support with your condition.
If you develop any symptoms that cause physical discomfort, call your healthcare provider. Also, call if you noticed any new skin changes.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
While albinism is a rare genetic condition, it can affect people from all walks of life. If you or a family member are suffering from the effects of living with albinism, call your healthcare provider. Albinism can have a profound impact on you and your family. Your healthcare provider can help you navigate the various aspects of living with the condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/05/2021.
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