Signs of albinism are usually, but not always, apparent in a person's skin, hair and eye color. However, all people with the disorder experience vision problems.
Although the most recognizable form of albinism results in white hair and pinkish skin, skin coloring (pigmentation) can range from white to brown, and may be nearly the same as that of parents or siblings without albinism.
For some people with albinism, skin pigmentation never changes. For others, melanin production may begin or increase during childhood and the teen years, resulting in slight changes in pigmentation. With exposure to the sun, some people may develop:
- Moles, with or without pigment — moles without pigment are generally pink-colored
- Large freckle-like spots (lentigines)
- The ability to tan
Hair color can range from very white to brown. People of African or Asian descent who have albinism may have hair color that's yellow, reddish or brown. Hair color may also darken by early adulthood.
Eye color can range from very light blue to brown and may change with age.
The lack of pigment in the colored part of the eyes (irises) makes them somewhat translucent. This means that the irises can't completely block light from entering the eye. Because of this, very light-colored eyes may appear red in some lighting. This occurs because you're seeing light reflected off the back of the eye and passing back out through the iris again — similar to the red-eye that occurs in a flash photo.
Signs and symptoms of albinism related to eye function include:
- Rapid, involuntary back-and-forth movement of the eyes (nystagmus)
- Inability of both eyes to stay directed at the same point or to move in unison (strabismus)
- Extreme nearsightedness or farsightedness
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Abnormal curvature of the front surface of your eye or the lens inside your eye (astigmatism), which causes blurred vision
When to see a doctor
If your child lacks pigment in his or her hair or skin at birth that affects the eyelashes and eyebrows — as is often the case in infants with albinism — your doctor will likely order an eye exam and closely follow any changes in your child's pigmentation.
For some infants, the first sign of albinism is poor visual tracking. This may be followed at 3 to 4 months of age by rapid back-and-forth shifting (nystagmus) in the eyes. If you observe these signs in your baby, talk to your doctor.
Contact your doctor if your child with albinism experiences frequent nosebleeds, easy bruising or chronic infections. These signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of Hermansky-Pudlak or Chediak-Higashi syndromes, which are rare but serious genetic disorders.
Apr. 19, 2014
- Wolff K, et al. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=740. Accessed Nov. 21, 2013.
- Albinism. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic_disorders/pigmentation_disorders/albinism.html?qt=&sc=&alt=. Accessed Nov. 21, 2013.
- Levin AV, et al. Albinism for the busy clinician. Journal of AAPOS. 2011;1:59.
- What is albinism? National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH). http://www.albinism.org/publications/2010/What_is_Albinism.pdf. Accessed Nov. 21, 2013.
- Summers CG. Albinism: Classification, clinical characteristics and recent findings. Optometry and Vision Science. 2009;86:659.
- Gronskov K, et al. Oculocutaneous albinism. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. 2007;2:43.
- Brodsky MC (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 15, 2013.
- Hand JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 13, 2013.