What is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the individual’s hair follicles causing patchy hair fall. This hair loss may be unnoticeable in some cases or isolated to just a few spots but in severe cases, complete loss of hair on the head or the entire body (alopecia areata universalis) is also a possibility. The severity of the disorder varies from person to person and in some cases, hair may grow back permanently or grow back and then fall off again.
If you have noticed a sudden increase in hair fall while taking a shower or combing your hair, it is recommended that you make an appointment with a dermatologist to rule out alopecia areata.
Alopecia Areata Symptoms
In many cases, the only indication of Alopecia Areata is accelerated hair loss, usually in clumps, causing small, coin-shaped bald spots. The Alopecia Areata Symptoms are usually easily identifiable by a trained professional.
- Hair loss: the person suffers hair loss that can either be rapid or stretched out over a few weeks. This is usually noted due to bald spots and clumps of hair on the pillow or in the shower.
- Itching: some persons may experience irritation and itchiness in the region that usually precedes hair loss.
- White hairs may be spotted at the spots where there is excess hair fall.
- Red or brittle nails: if you observe white spots on your nails, splitting and roughness of nails along with dents, this may be the first indication that you might suffer from the condition.
Most individuals usually observe cycles of repeated hair growth and hair fall and it is important to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist at the earliest if any of these Symptoms are observed.
Who is at Risk?
The Risk Factors of Alopecia Areata are varied and are mostly beyond an individual’s control.
- Age less than 30: although the condition can affect anyone, it is usually first identified in those who are less than 30 years old.
- Genetic factors: a family history of baldness or hair loss could significantly increase the risks of an individual developing alopecia areata.
- Other autoimmune disorders: If an individual is already suffering from an autoimmune disorder, he is more likely to develop the condition.
- Stress: excessive stress, both physical and mental, can affect the general health an functioning of the body and trigger rapid hair loss.
Alopecia Areata Causes
Alopecia Areata is caused by a malfunctioning immune system that Causes white blood cells to identify hair follicles as a foreign threat and thereby attack them. This leads to the weakening of the hair follicles and increased hair loss. While it remains unknown as to what exactly Causes this immune reaction, a strong genetic link has been identified.
Those who have a history of alopecia areata in the family are more likely to develop the condition. Another factor that might cause alopecia areata is the existence of other autoimmune disorders like thyroiditis or vitiligo that might trigger the immune reaction that Causes damage to the hair follicles. Some processed foods that are rich in sugar and preservatives might also trigger skin inflammation and hair loss.
How is Alopecia Areata Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Alopecia Areata is usually done by a dermatologist on the basis of the reported Symptoms and a physical examination. Other immune disorders or hair conditions may also be ruled out to ensure proper diagnosis.
- Blood test: this might help detect any other abnormality in the immune system or any imbalances that may cause severe hair fall or trigger alopecia areata. These tests may also include the measurement of iron levels, testosterone, thyroid and hormone tests to eliminate other Causes.
- Skin biopsy or hair sample tests: Scalp and hair samples may be examined to eliminate any possibility of an infection and to analyse any localised changes in hair health or growth.
Based on medical history, Symptoms and a basic physical examination, most dermatologists will be able to easily diagnose alopecia areata.
How is Alopecia Areata treated?
An Alopecia Areata cure does not exist as of now but treatment can help to control and manage the condition and its effects. There are a few Alopecia Areata treatment options available to help reduce hair fall and promote hair growth.
- Topical medicines: topical agents like minoxidil and corticosteroid ointments and creams might help to reverse the hair loss and promote faster regrowth of hair.
- Topical immunotherapy: in this line of treatment, an allergic reaction is provoked using a chemical and this reaction eventually promotes hair growth. This treatment however will have to be continuous to achieve desired results.
- Injections: steroids are injected into the affected skin to promote hair growth.
- Surgery: laser treatment or hair transplants may be opted for to get rid of patches and regain lost hair.
- Natural treatments may be used to supplement the above options. Although based on relatively unstable scientific foundations, acupuncture and the use of essential oils are believed to promote hair growth.
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How can Alopecia areata be Prevented?
Due to the lack of a clear and known cause, Alopecia Areata Prevention is not possible. However, some helpful practices may be adopted to improve general hair health.
- Wash hair regularly: rinse hair regularly with safe shampoo that is not too harsh on your hair.
- Use natural oils like coconut or almond oil to replenish lost oils and nourish your hair from the roots.
- Stay away from harsh styling treatments like colouring or straightening that involve the use of excessive heat or chemicals as these could greatly damage your hair as well as the skin.
- Keep stress levels at a minimum and adopt a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and get sufficient exercise every day.