Albinism is a group of genetic conditions in which a person has no or very little melanin pigment in their skin, hair and eyes. Albinism occurs in all racial and ethnic groups throughout the world. In Australia, about one in 17,000 people have some type of albinism.
It is important for people with albinism to protect their skin and eyes from the sun, and have their eyes checked regularly.
The genes for albinism are passed down from both parents, who may not be directly affected by it themselves. However, there is no simple test to determine whether a person carries a gene for albinism.
Types of albinism
There are two main types of albinism:
- ocular albinism, in which the eyes are affected, but the colour of their hair and skin is fairly normal
- oculocutaneous albinism, in which the hair, skin and eyes are all affected
There are also some extremely rare conditions where people have albinism and other health problems. Examples are Hermansky Pudlak syndrome, Chediak Higashi syndrome and Griscelli syndrome.
Signs and symptoms of albinism
Some children with albinism are born with pinkish-white skin and white hair. Their eyes are usually light grey, blue or hazel, although they can look pink in the light.
People with albinism usually have poor vision. Glasses can help, but some have poor vision even with glasses. Several eye conditions can affect people with albinism including nystagmus, which is horizontal back and forth movement of the eyes, and photophobia, which is sensitivity to bright light and glare.
Usually, albinism is picked up at birth. Genetic testing can help confirm the diagnosis.
Living with albinism
People with albinism have a higher risk than others of sunburn, skin problems and skin cancer. Given Australia's climate, good sun protection for the skin is essential, as well as sunglasses to protect the eyes.
People with albinism can also suffer from discrimination. Good support for all involved can help deal with it.
Where to go for help?
The Albinism Fellowship of Australia provides support and education to people with albinism, parents of children with albinism, as well as their families and friends.
Visit healthdirect's genetic disorders guide to learn more about genes, types of genetic disorders and where to go for help and more information.
Last reviewed: August 2018