There might be several people who might not even be aware of what alopecia areata is, but those in the know will know that this is a condition that leads to hair loss, mainly on the head. This is actually a condition, within the human body, that leads to the loss of hair, in patches and while it happens mostly on the head, in rare cases, it can affect other parts of the body.
What is Alopecia Areata?
- Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition, which leads to hair falling out
- The condition causes the body to attack the hair follicles, which leads to the hair to fall out
- The loss of hair can be in a pattern or in small patches that are random
- The loss of hair is most commonly seen on the head, but in rare cases, it can affect other parts of the body as well
- There is till date, no exact cause that has been identified for alopecia areata
- The condition has been attributed to other autoimmune conditions such as Type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis
- In most cases, there is only partial hair loss, but in the most severe cases, there can be complete hair loss or alopecia universalis
- In many cases, the hair does grow back, but there is always the chance for it to fall out again
There is no proven cure for alopecia areata, but several routes of treatment have proven effective and while hair does grow back, what is more important to remember is the fact that the further hair loss can be prevented.
What are the causes of Alopecia Areata?
Studies looking into the causes of alopecia areata have been going on for a long time and are still continuing, but one thing that doctors and researchers have been able to confirm is that this is an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition is one wherein the immune system of the body is unable to differentiate between the good cells and the bad cells. In alopecia areata, the immune system of the body attacks the follicles of the hair, leading to them falling out. The condition leads to the hair follicles becoming smaller, which eventually stops the production of hair altogether.
Perhaps the main issue behind alopecia areata is the fact that despite in-depth research, there is still no clear reason for why the immune system attacks the hair follicles. However, it has been noticed that people who have a family history of type 1 diabetes or other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis are more prone to developing this hair condition.
What are the symptoms of Alopecia Areata?
The fact that alopecia areata is a condition that leads to loss of hair, that itself is the first symptom.
- Hair tends to fall out in small round patches, normally a few centimetres, mainly on the scalp
- Loss of hair could occur on other parts of the body as well
- If the hair loss is really extensive and there is no hair on the entire head, it is referred to as alopecia totalis
- If the hair loss is extremely extensive and there is no hair on the entire body, the condition is known as alopecia universalis
- Even in this condition of hair loss, hair could grow back and then it could fall out again
How is alopecia areata diagnosed?
Proper diagnosis of alopecia areata can be done only by an experienced doctor and most of them will be able to detect the same, only by looking at the scalp and gauging the extent of hair loss.
- Some doctors might take a few hair samples and examine them in greater detail under a microscope to determine that it is alopecia areata.
- In certain cases, the doctors might request for a scalp biopsy, simply because they would want to rule out other conditions that could lead to hair loss, such as scalp infections. A small piece of skin will be removed from the scalp and the same will be used for the biopsy.
- In case, the doctor suspects any other kind of autoimmune conditions, he could also suggest that the patient undergoes a few blood tests. The blood tests will be specific to the kind of condition that is being suspected or will be with the intention of locating certain antibodies.
- Some of the other commonly prescribed blood tests include those to check iron, testosterone and thyroid levels, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, follicle stimulating and luteinizing hormone levels and antinuclear antibody test.
Who is most likely to get alopecia areata?
There is no fixed rule or guide book that can tell you who is most likely to get alopecia areata, however, it has been noticed that genetics have a large role to play in it. If someone in the family has alopecia areata, chances are that it might travel down the family tree and affect others as well.
It is important to remember that alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition, which means that it can affect anyone. It is just as important to remember that alopecia areata, if detected in time, can be treated and the results can be permanent.
How is alopecia areata treated?
While there is no cure for alopecia areata, the condition can be treated, provided the same is detected well in time. As a matter of fact, treatment can not only help stop further hair loss, it can also assist with hair growing back faster.
Here is how medical treatment for alopecia areata works:
There are certain medications such as Minoxidil, which can be rubbed into the scalp and that in help with the stimulation of hair growth. There are also other creams and ointments which can be applied to the scalp for better hair growth. Certain doctors would also be willing to prescribe steroid injections, which are normally injected into the scalp. Photochemotherapy is also known to be an effective solution, where radiation with ultraviolet light, combined with oral medication can help improve hair growth.
There is also a range of alternative therapies:
Some of the most commonly used alternative therapies to treat alopecia areata include intake of vitamins, aromatherapy, herbal supplements and acupuncture. However, none of these therapies have been proven, which is why their effectiveness is not guaranteed for everyone.
What can be done to help with alopecia areata?
There are some steps that can be taken to help reduce the discomfort that is often associated with alopecia areata:
- Whenever you are stepping out, make sure that you apply sunscreen to the areas that have been affected by the condition.
- The scalp should also be protected with a scarf or hat
- If eyelashes have fallen out, it would be wise to wear sunglasses
Alopecia areata manifests in each person, in a different manner, which is why it is important to remember that the hair growth and efficacy of any and all treatments will vary. While some people might see results after the very first treatment, there would be those who will need more than five or six sessions, before they start to see the very first hair. It is also crucial to remember that in many cases, the hair growth might be temporary and the hair can fall off. In many cases, different treatments might be required and for some only a combination might work.