What Is Albinism?

By Antonia Čirjak on January 31 2020 in Environment

Albinism typically affects the skin, hair, and eyes. 
Albinism typically affects the skin, hair, and eyes. 

Have you ever seen an animal or a person with unusually pale looks, light eyes, and white hair? This striking appearance is a result of a rare genetic condition called albinism. It is found in many species all over the world and can vary in degree and type. Albinism is a genetic condition that causes the body not to produce normal levels of melanin. This means there will be less in the skin, hair, and eyes. 

Types Of Albinism

The most common type is called oculocutaneous albinism (OCA). It affects the eyes, hair, and skin. A less common type is ocular albinism (OA), which only affects the eyes, while skin and hair can be similar or only slightly lighter than that of other members of the family.

There are various classifications for describing different types of albinism. Two different people with albinism will not necessarily have the exact same condition. Symptoms can be mild to severe. Someone with albinism can have no pigment or just slight pigment. People with less pigment may have very light hair and skin and possibly vision problems. Those with more pigment will have hair with a yellow or a reddish tone with somewhat better vision. 

What Causes The Condition?

Albinism is inherited. The genes that affect the more common type, i.e., OCA, are found on autosomal chromosomes (humans have 22 pairs of autosomal and one pair of sex chromosomes). It is common knowledge that we inherit our traits from both our mother and our father, we are all a combination of our parents, after all. Now, the genes for albinism are recessive, and this means we would need to get them from both parents to have the condition. Most children with albinism have parents whose hair and eye color are typical because parents are only the carriers of the albinism genes, but do not have it themselves.

The gene for the OA variety is on the sex chromosomes, specifically the X chromosome. Given that women are born with two copies of the X chromosome (XX) and men have only one (XY), men need to inherit only one copy of the gene with albinism from their mother to inherit albinism. This is why this type is significantly more common in men and quite rare for women. 

What Is It Like To Have Albinism?

Albinism can be one of the symptoms in some other disorders, but people who have it, generally do not have health issues different from most people. The only health concerns are different types of vision problems. It is not only a case of bad eyesight that can be fixed with glasses but various kinds of vision problems. They come with albinism because melanin has a vital role in the development of the optic nerves.

Because of very fair skin, it is imperative to take proper care in the sun. This is true for all of us, but if you had albinism, you would need to be extra careful to make sure to use sunscreen, especially if you live in a hot climate.

Albinism does not affect life span, and it does not prevent people from having a normal life. In some cases, it is possible to experience social isolation or bullying because the condition is often misunderstood, so it is important to stand up to any harmful behavior if you see it.

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