Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. Typically, someone with this disorder experiences hair loss in small patches, but others can experience more severe hair loss.
In extreme cases, it may also result in complete hair loss of the entire body. There aren’t strict criteria for this disorder to occur as it can affect anyone regardless of their gender and age. However, the majority of the cases affect people younger than 30 years.
Types of Alopecia
The main types of alopecia are:
- Alopecia Areata: While alopecia refers to baldness, areata is a term used for “patchy.” You can develop bald patches on any part of your body, including areas such as:
- Scalp, etc.
- Alopecia Totalis: People with this form of alopecia lose all the hair on their head, leaving it bald.
- Alopecia Universalis: While this is an extreme case of alopecia, it is also rare. In this, a person can lose all of their body hair.
What Causes Alopecia?
Losing hair due to this condition indicates that it has something to do with hair production. Alopecia is caused by white blood cells attacking cells in hair follicles. This shrinks the follicles and slows down the production of hair.
It is not entirely known what causes white blood cells to target cells in hair follicles. However, some studies indicate that it may be due to genetics as people with family history of alopecia areata is more likely to have this condition.
According to other research, people with a family history of alopecia areata also have some history of other autoimmune disorders such as vitiligo, thyroiditis, etc. Regardless of what different sources say, there isn’t much scientific evidence to support the idea that it may be caused by stress. Stress could be a trigger, but most sources point towards genetic reasons.
What Are the Symptoms of Alopecia?
Even though hair loss is the main symptom of alopecia, you should note how it happens. There are signs that your hair fall should worry you, such as:
- Small patches of baldness on your scalp or any other part of the body
- Patches getting larger and growing into a bald spot
- Losing a lot of hair in a short period
- Hair growing back in one spot and falling out in another
- Excessive loss of hair in cold weather
- Toe and fingernails becoming brittle and red
There isn’t any redness or rashes on the bald patches, but there may be itching, or a burning sensation on the skin right before your hair falls out.
How to Get Alopecia Diagnosed?
If you suspect having the condition, immediately see your dermatologist. They will initially talk about the symptoms and go on to examine areas with hair loss. They may also check if your hair can be pulled out easily. If they unable to formulate a diagnosis, they may examine your nails and check individual hair to see if there’s anything abnormal about the shape.
There are very rare cases where a doctor may recommend a biopsy, which involves removing a piece of skin from your scalp and examining it under a microscope. Hair loss can be caused by another condition. Your doctor may also check for any fungal infection or suggest blood tests for thyroid or other problems of the immune system.
How to Treat Alopecia Areata?
There is currently no cure for the condition, but hair loss can be treated. Here are some potential treatment options:
If hair loss happens more than once or there is a lot of hair loss, this treatment can be a viable option. It consists of a chemical dermatologists apply to your scalp to induce an allergic reaction. The reaction is what grows your hair back. It may also cause itching and a rash. However, you need repeat sessions to maintain the new growth.
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs often used to treat autoimmune diseases. They can be administered orally or through an injection. It can also be given as an ointment, foam, or cream to rub. The only downside is that it may be time-consuming.
This treatment is widely used for pattern baldness and usually takes 12 weeks for visible growth. It may not work well for everyone as not all types of alopecia respond well to minoxidil.
Additional treatments for alopecia include medications used for different autoimmune disorders. However, not all medicines are effective in stimulating hair re-growth.
For extensive alopecia, doctors may prescribe cortisone tablets. However, they may have side effects, so you should discuss them with a professional first.
There are other oral treatments, including immunosuppressant medicines like cyclosporine and methotrexate. Such medications work by blocking your immune system’s response. However, you cannot use them for a long time due to the possible side effects such as kidney damage, liver damage, and high blood pressure. Some serious side effects may also include infections and lymphoma, a type of cancer.
Light therapy is also known as phototherapy or photochemotherapy. It involves the use of radiation with a combination of oral medication such as psoralens.
Some people choose to deal with alopecia areata through alternative therapies such as:
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
- Scalp massage
- Low-level laser therapy
- Intake of vitamins such as zinc and biotin
However, since these remedies are natural, they have not been clinically trialed. Therefore, we cannot know of their effectiveness for sure.
Can You Prevent Alopecia Areata?
Since the causes of alopecia areata are unknown, the condition cannot be prevented yet. There can be many unknown reasons behind it, such as genetics, other skin or autoimmune conditions. However, it’s not necessary for everyone with these problems to suffer from this hair condition.