Alopecia Areata Explained
Alopecia areata is a medical condition that causes the hair to fall out of the scalp of a person due to autoimmune issues. While this condition might not always be noticeable by others, the development of the patches on the scalp might connect and become visible to those viewing the scalp. In general, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that can cause round patches of hair loss on the scalp (the patches are normally the size of a coin).
If a person is suffering from an autoimmune disease, this means the immune system perceives viruses and bacteria in the body to be foreign objects. Normally, the immune system will create antibodies and white blood cells to protect the body against bacteria and viruses. In alopecia areata, the white blood cells of a person gather around the hair follicles because the body perceives them to be foreign objects. This perception causes them to fall out and form the bald patches on the scalp.
In addition to the scalp, the hair loss can also occur on the eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and other areas of the body. While the hair can grow back after the autoimmune disease subsides, there is also the chance the hair will fall out again in the future. The amount of hair loss and hair regrowth varies per person.
Alopecia Areata Medical Treatments
Topical Agents and Minoxidil – Patients can rub topical agents into the scalp in order to try and stimulate the growth of hair. In addition, minoxidil can be applied on a daily basis to the impacted area suffering from hair loss. Corticosteroid creams, lotions and foams can be used to reduce the amount of inflammation in the hair follicles.
Oral Treatments – Cortisone tablets are sometimes used to treat extensive alopecia areata conditions. In addition, oral immunosuppressants work to block the response of the immune system. However, these oral immunosuppressants are not ideal to use over a long period of time due to the risk of side effects such as liver or kidney damage as well as high blood pressure.
Patients also have the option of not treating their alopecia areata at all since it is a self-limiting condition that often sees the effects of the condition reversed without any type of medical treatment.
Alopecia Areata Symptoms
The main symptom of alopecia areata is the patchy hair loss on the scalp of the person. The hair loss will start to be noticeable when clumps of hair begin to appear in the shower or on a pillow after sleeping.
The amount of hair loss can actually be quite severe, and this can be a sign of another type of alopecia. There is alopecia totalis which is the loss of all of the hair on the scalp and alopecia universalis which is when a person suffers from a loss of hair on the entire body.
There is also the possibility of the hair loss being a combination of the two types described in the above paragraph. For example, the patient might all lose all of the hair on the scalp and the arms but not lose any hair on the legs.
It should also be noted that alopecia areata can impact men and women of all ages including children and teens.
Alopecia Areata and Unpredictable Recovery
Alopecia areata is an unpredictable condition in that it impacts the body differently for each person. Once this autoimmune disease develops, some people deal with recurring moments of hair loss for the rest of their life. Others may only experience a single occurrence of hair loss.
The same school of thought applies to the recovery process. Some patients will enjoy a full regrowth of their hair while others will only see some amount of hair regrowth.
It can be a challenge for many people to deal with their hair loss as they might feel depressed and unwilling to talk to others in person.
Alopecia Areata and Hair Transplant
A hair transplant can treat the balding area if the autoimmune disease is no longer active and a scalp biopsy has been performed to confirm the inactivity of the condition. If the hair loss impacts the eyebrows, microblading or makeup can be used to fill-in the areas where the eyebrow hair is missing.
Alopecia Areata and a Healthy Diet
Some patients that have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition might want to follow an “anti-inflammatory” diet that is designed to reduce the autoimmune response in the body and decrease the chance of further hair loss in the future. This type of diet often includes nuts, seeds, beets, blueberries, whole grains and leaner foods like salmon.
Anyone who thinks they might be suffering from alopecia areata are invited to contact our office today to schedule a consultation appointment for a scalp examination. Our experienced team of doctors will determine if alopecia areata is the cause of the hair loss as well as the best treatment option to treat the issue of hair loss on the scalp.