Alopecia means baldness or loss of hair. Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that results in bald patches on the head. For some people, the condition can lead to complete baldness. It is very common and currently 2% of Americans have it. Alopecia areata occurs because of an autoimmune disorder.
Even though it is generally believed that men have this type of hair loss more often, the truth is it can happen to people from all genders, ages and ethnicities. Studies show that people before the age of 30 are more prone to it.
But why does Alopecia occur? Who is at risk? What are the signs and symptoms? And is it reversible? These are only a few questions that go through the minds of people suffering from the condition. Here are some clear answers for you.
As mentioned above, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease which makes the hair from your head fall in random patches. There are times when hair loss can occur from other parts of the body too, but this is rare. The accurate reason for why the disease occurs is still not clear. But research suggests that alopecia happens mostly to the people who have a family history of autoimmune diseases like alopecia itself, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
What happens is that your body’s defense system, for some unknown reason starts believing that your hair is harming you. So it starts attacking the hair follicles in small random patches. The whole process is very sudden and without any prior signs or symptoms.
The thing with alopecia is, all cases are different. Most people lose hair in small patches only, but there are few people who lose all their hair. Same is the case with regrowth of the lost hair. There are cases where the hair did not come back and other where new hair emerged within a few months. For some, the regrown hair also started falling out in clumps. In other words, falling and regrowth changes from individual to individual.
Can it be Cured? What are the Symptoms?
Sadly, there is no cure for alopecia. The condition can be managed and there are times when some patients have observed difference in their hair after treatment. But there is no absolute cure as yet.
The only symptom for this problem is the actual falling out of the hair. Keep in mind that hair falls in patches which means that you will notice coin-sized patches of hair disappearing from your head. There is no pre-symptom or sign of the hair loss. The condition starts suddenly. Sometimes there is itching or burning sensation where the hair fall may begin.
Remember, hair follicles in most cases are not destroyed, which means that hair can grow back anytime. Since there is only inflammation, the inflammation subsides and hair grows back. For most people who experience small sudden loss of hair patches, the recovery is just as swift.
Very few people, about 30% see that the problem become more extensive and the cycle of hair loss keeps on happening. Around 50% of the patients recover within a year of the start of their hair fall. Only 10% of patients face complete hair loss, or irreversible hair loss. If you feel that condition is expanding to your nails, of both hands and feet, then this is the sign of it becoming severe. You may notice white spots and line, dents on the nails, nails become rough and lusterless.
A severe kind of alopecia, this is when the hair follicle is completely destroyed and there are no chances of hair re-growing back. It also affects the skin wherever the follicle is destroyed. Some of the reasons why this condition occurs include scleroderma, folliculitis decalvans, lichen planus, and frontal fibrosing alopecia. This condition is relatively rare.
Diagnosis of Alopecia and Treatment Options
Alopecia areata can easily be diagnosed by physical exam. Sometimes the doctor will look at the hair with a microscope and also check the degree of damage that has been done. If for some reason, a diagnosis is not made on spot, the doctor would recommend skin biopsy. If the biopsy indicates no autoimmune diseases, blood tests are performed.
Some of the treatment options for alopecia include:
- Topical Immunotherapy: If you are experiencing severe hair loss, this therapy is suggested. It is also recommended in situations where the condition returns back after happening once. Your scalp would be chemically treated in order to get an allergic reaction. If the treatment works, it would lead to regrowth of the hair. The treatment is repeated a few time for effective result and could cause itchy rash on the head.
- Minoxidil: This medicine is used for other kinds of baldness too. It does not work for everyone and the results come out after 12 weeks.
- Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs are beneficial for autoimmune diseases. If the injections are prescribed, they are directly give on the scalp. Pills, ointments, foam or cream can also be given depending on severity of the condition. The reason why patients aren’t very happy with corticosteroids is that they take a long time before giving any results.
Alopecia is not a life threatening condition. Nor is it permanent in most cases. But it can lead to a lot of anxiety and depression for patients suffering from it. Do not forget, even if all the hair disappears, possibility of it coming back are high. Getting stressed out about it is not going to help you in any possible way.
The instant you notice hair falling in patches, get in touch with the doctor immediately. They may be able to slow the problem or help you in overcoming it through the above mentioned treatment options. Remember, hair loss may not only be because of alopecia and there could be some other underlying cause. Only start treatment once you have proper and accurate diagnosis made by your doctor.