Introduction 

Albinism affects the production of melanin, the pigment that colours skin, hair and eyes.

People with albinism have a reduced amount of melanin or no melanin at all, which can cause characteristic signs and symptoms often obvious from birth.

Depending on the amount of melanin the person has, they may have very pale hair, skin and eyes, although some people with albinism can have brown or ginger hair and skin that can tan.

People with albinism also usually have a number of eye conditions, such as:

  • problems with eyesight – they may benefit from wearing glasses, although these can't usually fully correct vision
  • nystagmus (involuntary eye movements)
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)

Read more about the symptoms of albinism and diagnosing albinism.

What causes albinism?

In albinism, cells that produce melanin do not work properly because of inherited genetic mutations (faulty genes).

There are a number of faulty genes that can cause albinism, and these are passed onto a child by their parents.

Read more about the causes of albinism.

Who is affected

It is estimated that about one in every 17,000 people has some form of albinism.

The condition generally affects both sexes equally, although there is one type – known as ocular albinism (which mainly affects the eyes) – that is more common in males.

Albinism can affect people of all ethnic groups.

Treatment for people with albinism

Albinism itself does not need treatment, but the associated skin and eye problems it can cause often do.

A child with albinism will need regular eye tests and it is likely they will need to wear glasses or contact lenses to correct vision problems such as short-sightedness, long-sightedness or astigmatism.

Those with albinism will also need to take extra care in the sun. Without melanin, ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can easily damage their skin (sunburn) and increase their risk of developing skin cancer.

Read more about treating albinism.

Outlook

Albinism is a lifelong condition, but it doesn't get worse over time.

A person with albinism’s vision is unlikely to ever reach normal levels, even with glasses or contact lenses, and a child with the condition will often need extra support at school.

A child with albinism may also need support to help them deal with any bullying they may experience because they look different.

However, there is usually no reason why a person with albinism cannot otherwise do well in normal schooling, further education and employment.

Page last reviewed: 04/11/2014

Next review due: 04/11/2016