'Albinism in humans has already been described in ancient times by several Greek and Roman authors like Pliny Secundus and Aulus Gellius. The first accurate scientific paper on Albinism was written by Archibald Garrod in 1908.'
An Albino is a person who has an inherited congenital anomaly that affects the amount of melanin produced in the skin, hair and eyes. Melanin is the pigment that is responsible for the coloring of skin, hair and eyes. This condition is called Albinism.
Albinism occurs in all racial and ethnic groups all over the world. But the occurrence of Albinism differs from continent to continent. Especially in Africa it can be as high as one in 2,000 to one in 5,000 people.
Most Albinos are born to parents who have normal skin, hair, and eye color related to their ethnic backgrounds. There are different types of Albinism and the pigmentation of the eyes varies; but most forms of Albinism are associated with vision problems.
Types of Albinism
There are different types of Albinism. The three most common types that affect the skin are oculocutaneous Albinism type 1, 2 and type 3, in short: OCA1, OCA2 and OCA3. (oculo=eye, cutaneous = skin).
Some rare types also exist besides these types. Almost all Albinos in Africa suffer from oculo-cutaneous Albinism type 2. People with this type of Albinism are born white, but during their lifetime, they get irregular unatractive melanin spots, on the parts of their body that are exposed to the sun. The body of these Albinos produces a little melanin, but not enough for tanning of the entire skin.
The hereditary defect that causes Albinism is passed on by recessive genes, so it takes two genes, one from the father and one from the mother to be born an Albino. Having one Albino gene, does not make a person an Albino, but a carrier of the gene. When the partner is also a carrier, there is a chance of 25% that a child born to the the couple will be an Albino, 50% chance that the child will be a carrier and 25% that the child has two normal genes.
Because Albinos have a fair complexion due to lack of pigmentation by melanin, it is important to protect the skin from the sun by taking precautions such as using suncream, hats, sunglasses and clothing that covers most parts of the body. The minimum of exposure to the sun causes damage to the skin. In tropical countries, individuals with Albinism who don't have access to proper skin protection develop skin cancer.
People with Albinism always have vision problems. The vision problems are often correctable with prescription glasses.
The typical problems are caused by the abnormal development of the retina and the abnormal patterns of nerve connections between the eye and the brain. The presence of these type of eye problems is one of the most important defining points for the diagnosis of Albinism. The degree of visual impairment varies with the various types of Albinism.
The choice of optical aids depends on the individual. Some people may do well with ordinary glasses. Magnifying glasses and low vision aids for distance vision can also be helpful. Others use hand-held magnifiers.
Without protection from UV-radiation by sunglasses, their eyes will be damaged even more. Since the eyes of people with Albinism have insufficient pigment melanin to effectively absorb light, sunlight, glare and brightly-lit environments are painful and uncomfortable to the eyes and causes even more difficulty seeing.Individuals are often more sensitive to light coming from sides and from overhead.
A common misconception is that people with Albinism have red eyes. The eyes can have a reddish appearance under certain types of lighting. But although some Albinos have violet or hazelbrown eyes, most Albinos have blue eyes.
Many Albinos do not only have bad eyesight, they also have a squint. In Western countries, it's possible to remedy the squint with an operation, but not in Africa.
Not only do Albinos have problems with their eyes and skin, some of them are also deaf.