Albinism is an inherited condition. People with albinism have little or no melanin, which is a chemical that colors our skin, eyes and hair. Therefore, people with albinism lack pigmentation in the skin, eyes and hair. Albinism affects people of all races and ethnicities and is much more common than you may think. In fact, one out of every 17,000 people worldwide has some form of albinism. In some populations, it occurs in one out of every 200 births.
Most forms of albinism are recessive, which means that a child inherits one abnormal gene from each parent. Most children with albinism are born to parents with normal pigmentation. These parents — like one in every 75 people — are carriers for albinism. A carrier is someone who has one abnormal gene and one that functions normally. Because the functional gene overrides the abnormal one, these people do not have albinism themselves. However, they are still able to pass the abnormal gene on to their child.
Although people with albinism always have problems with vision, the degree varies greatly. Some are legally blind, while others have vision that is good enough to drive a car. Most are able to read without using Braille.
In addition to the impact that albinism has on vision, individuals with albinism should be aware of other non-ocular concerns related to albinism:
- Skin: People with albinism lack sufficient amounts of melanin, the chemical which also protects your skin from the sun. As a result, they are prone to sunburn and skin cancer. In areas of the world where proper sunscreen is not available, there is an 80% fatality rate. In the United States, people with OA and OCA albinism have a normal life span. In the developed world, many skin cancers are prevented by using proper sunscreen and protective clothing. People with albinism do not need to stay inside or sit in the dark. With proper protection, they can participate in most activities, including a trip to the beach.
- There are other medical problems associated with HPS, Chediak-Higashi Syndrome and Griscelli Syndrome as described in the ‘Genetics and Types of Albinism‘ section of this website.