What is Alopecia?
Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune condition or disorder that results in the hair to fall off in small patches. In time, these small patches may connect and turn into visible patches.
Alopecia happens when the immune system of a person attacks the hair follicles. This results in hair loss. The hair loss can happen in the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, the face as well as other parts of the body.
The condition can come about suddenly or may develop slowly as well as recur after years between instances. Alopecia can result in total hair loss and may or may not grow back. While it is possible to grow the hair back in some cases, the degree of hair loss and regrowth differs from person to person.
Hair loss is the primary notable symptom amongst alopecia symptoms. Patches of hair, ranging a few centimetres or less, may fall off from the scalp. However, the condition can affect any area of hair growth including the eyelashes and the beard.
A person may notice small clusters of hair on the pillow or falling off in the shower or someone else may bring it to their attention. The person may experience burning sensations or itching the area before hair loss.
The hair loss is unpredictable and is mostly spontaneous. The hair follicles may not be destroyed, and once the inflammation in the follicles subsides, the hair may regrow. The hair can regrow and then may fall off again at any point in time. The range of hair loss and regrowth varies from person to person.
Who is at risk?
Alopecia is more common in people who are under 30 years old. Other risk factors include:
- Family history of hair loss or baldness
- Susceptibility to allergic skin reactions or diseases.
- Having another autoimmune disorder such as type 1 diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis.
Alopecia reason can be explained by the fact that it is an autoimmune disease. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system of the body mistakenly perceives the healthy cells of the body as foreign substances and creates special antibodies to attack them. In alopecia areata, the antibodies in the body attack the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.
The exact cause of this condition isn’t known. It mostly occurs in people who have a family history of hair loss or baldness or people who suffer from another autoimmune disease. It is also believed that other factors like stress can potentially trigger alopecia.
How is Alopecia diagnosed?
Alopecia diagnosis can be done by examining the extent of hair loss and other hair loss symptoms. The doctor may also examine some hair samples under the microscope.
The doctor may also perform a biopsy of the scalp to rule out the possibility of any other condition causing hair loss like a fungal infection.
Additionally, the doctor may perform specific blood tests to check for any other autoimmune conditions or disorders.
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How is Alopecia treated?
There is no alopecia cure available currently. However, there are some treatments that a person can try to slow down hair loss and help with hair growth.
Medical alopecia treatment for includes:
- Topical medications: A number of over-the-counter medications can be rubbed into the scalp to help in stimulating hair growth. These include minoxidil, anthralin, and corticosteroid. The technique of topical immunotherapy may also help with continual treatment.
- Injections: In cases of mild, patchy alopecia, steroid injections can help in growing the hair back. However, it cannot prevent new hair loss
- Oral treatments: Oral alopecia medicine like cortisone and oral immunosuppressants can help with extensive alopecia. These should be taken strictly at the doctor’s discretion.
- Light therapy: Light therapy or photochemotherapy or phototherapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses a combination of UV light and oral medication.
Some people alternatively use natural therapy to treat alopecia. These include:
- Vitamins, like zinc and biotin
- Aloe vera drinks and topical gels
- Essential oils like tea tree, rosemary, lavender, and peppermint
- Other oils like coconut, olive, jojoba, and castor
- Herbal supplements
How can Alopecia be prevented?
Since the exact cause of alopecia is not known yet, alopecia prevention is not possible.
Even though this autoimmune disorder can be a result of varied factors like a family history of hair loss, another autoimmune disorder, other skin conditions, etc. not everyone with these factors develops the condition.