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What are some interesting facts about albinism?

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Quick Answer

Human cases of albinism, a congenital pigment disorder, generally fall into two categories. The first, oculocutaneous, can affect the skin, eyes and hair, whereas the second, ocular, affects only the eyes. Although there is no cure for albinism, it is not strictly considered a sickness or a disease.

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The major component of albinism is a lack of pigment, which results from inadequate levels of melanin as compared with average persons. This leads to a significantly perceivable whitening of those areas affected given the particular of albinism mentioned above. In cases where the skin is affected, albinos need take special care to protect themselves from excess sun exposure, and need to frequently visit dermatologists to ensure skin health.

Regardless of the category of albinism, all persons with albinism experience some level of visual impairment, usually without the possibility of corrective lenses making much difference. Indeed, most albinism is diagnosed through rudimentary eye testing. Individual visual impairment differs considerably, with some albinos being declared legally blind and others driving vehicles without issue. Surgery and other forms of rehabilitation are often available, though with wildly varying results based on individual circumstances.

Albinism affects people from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, without exception. Its prevalence is around one in every 17,000 persons, with different ratios applying to different populations. The highest occurrence is observed in persons of sub-Saharan African ethnicity. In general, albinos enjoy the same basic health as other members of the population, and experience similar average life spans and susceptibilities to illness and disease. In some cases, people with Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome may run higher risk of lung cancer, and Albinos in tropical climates who fail to control sun exposure may be more vulnerable to certain skin cancers.

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