What is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia Areata Symptoms

Alopecia Areata Symptoms

Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune disease that usually results in extreme hair loss. In this condition, hair falls out in small patches and is often not noticeable. However, with further deterioration of this condition, the patches could connect and end up getting widely noticed. The condition develops when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. 

In this condition, hair loss could occur on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, face and in some cases, on other parts of the body. Sometimes, it could lead to a complete hair fall called alopecia totalis. In extreme conditions, it could result in complete hair loss present in the body, this is commonly known as alopecia Universalis. People of all age groups and sexes are prone to developing this condition. It often begins appearing in childhood and varies from person to person who has it. 

Causes of Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition develops when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign substances. Normally, the immune system defends the body against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In a person having alopecia areata, however, the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. 

Hair follicles are the structures from which hairs grow. The follicles become smaller and stop producing hair, leading to hair loss. Researchers don’t know the exact cause of this condition. However, it most often occurs in people who have a family history of other autoimmune conditions, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. This is why some scientists suspect that genetics may contribute to the development of alopecia areata. They also believe that certain factors in the environment are needed to trigger alopecia areata in people who are genetically predisposed to it.  

Alopecia Areata Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for alopecia areata. Although, there are various treatments available to significantly reduce the hair loss process or to help grow back hair at a later point in time. 

The condition is difficult to predict, which means it may require a large amount of trial and error until one finds something that effectively works for them. For some people, hair loss may still get worse, even with treatment.

Given below are some treatments to control this condition:

  1. External agent

There are various medications available in the market which are applied directly to the scalp. These medications are known to stimulate hair growth. Some of the common over-the-counter medicines are:

  • Minoxidil is quite common and should be applied twice a day, every day to the scalp, eyebrow and beard. It’s relatively safe, but it can take a year to see results. 
  • Anthralin is a medicine that ironically works by irritating the skin which causes hair growth. 
  • Corticosteroid creams, foams, lotions, and ointments are thought to work by decreasing inflammation in the hair follicle which thereby promotes hair growth.
  1. Injections

Injecting steroids are a common option for mild, patchy alopecia to help hair grow back on bald spots. Tiny needles are used to inject the steroid into the bare skin of the affected areas. The treatment has to be repeated every one to two months to regrow hair. However, it doesn’t prevent new hair loss from occurring.

  1. Oral medications

Oral medications such as cortisone are used for extreme cases of alopecia areata. But, it is accompanied by various side effects and therefore, a doctor's recommendation is advised. These medications work by blocking the immune system’s response. However, if used for an extensive period of time it could damage the kidney, liver and result in high blood pressure.

  1. Light therapy

Light therapy is also called photochemotherapy or phototherapy. It’s a type of radiation treatment that uses a combination of an oral medication called psoralens and UV light. 

  1. Natural remedies

Apart from just utilizing the medications available, some people with alopecia areata choose to incorporate these therapies into their routine treatment to treat the condition. They are:

  1. Aromatherapy
  2. Acupuncture
  3. Microneedling
  4. Probiotics
  5. Low-level laser therapies
  6. Onion juice massaged to the scalp
  7. Using essential oils like tea tree oil, peppermint oil etc
  8. Scalp massages
  9. Herbal supplements such as green tea, Chinese hibiscus, etc

In addition to just the aesthetic aspect, hair umbrellas have a huge degree of protection against various elements. People dealing with this condition are advised to:

  • Wear sunscreen every time they are exposed to the sun
  • Wear wraparound glasses to protect the eyes from the sun and debris which the eyebrows and eyelashes would normally defend against.
  • Invest in headgears such as wigs, hats and scarves to protect the head from the sun or to keep it warm during winters
  • Use ointment inside the nose to keep membranes moist and to protect against organisms that are normally trapped by nostril hair.

This condition does not directly make people sick nor is it contagious. However, it could have a huge impact emotionally. For many people, alopecia areata is a traumatic disease that warrants treatment addressing the emotional aspect of hair loss, as well as the hair loss itself.

Take Away

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that could severely affect certain people. There are no potential risks involved with the onset of this disorder, however, it could be emotionally traumatizing. Although there is still no cure found for this disorder, there are various researches being conducted for the same. When it could be challenging for a person to live with this disorder, they should understand that it doesn’t define them in any way and that they are beautiful irrespective of any aspect. 

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