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Albinism includes a group of disorders caused by a gene mutation that produces low melanin, a pigment in the body that determines the color of eyes, hair and skin. Some people with albinism may inherit two copies of the mutated gene and have a recessive gene. Albinism causes sensitivity to the sun and an increased risk for skin cancer. People with albinism may feel discrimination or social isolation for appearing different.
Albinism is often obvious by the appearance of a person's eye color, hair and skin. For some people, skin pigment changes during childhood and teen years, but for others, skin color doesn't change. Children with albinism who have nosebleeds, bruising or frequent infections may have rare genetic disorders called Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome or Chediak-Higashi syndrome. These disorders include an increased risk for bleeding disorders, infections, and lung and bowel diseases.
There are several types of albinism, based on which gene is mutated. Oculocutaneous albinism causes lighter skin, hair and eyes than normal. X-linked ocular albinism occurs in male individuals and causes vision problems with minor changes in skin, hair and eye color.
Caucasian people are most likely to inherit albinism, although certain types of oculocutaneous albinism occur in African American and Asian ethnic groups.