Alopecia areata is a condition in which there is loss of hair from small patches, which can remain unnoticed. But, as the loss of hair increases, these patches become large and highly noticeable.
So, in this article we will discover the causes, symptoms and treatments of alopecia.
What is alopecia areata?
It is an autoimmune disorder in which our immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. In the majority of cases, loss of hair occurs from small patches, which if untreated or unnoticed might lead to further complications.
Sudden hair loss may occur from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, face and other parts of the body as well. This condition can even lead to permanent hair loss which is called as alopecia universalis and it can prevent hair from growing back.
Currently, this disease does not have any cure. However, there are some treatments which help in growing the hair back quickly and prevent further hair loss.
There are several types of alopecia and each type is characterized by the extent of hair loss and various other symptoms.
1. Alopecia areata
The main characteristic of this condition is one or more small patches of hair loss on the skin or body. If this condition is overlooked or untreated then it may lead to alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis.
2. Alopecia totalis
This condition involves complete loss of hair from the scalp.
3. Alopecia universalis
In this type of alopecia, apart from losing hair from the scalp, the person loses all the hair on the face.
4. Ophiasis alopecia
In this skin disease, hair loss follows a band along the sides and lower back of the scalp.
Alopecia areata causes
It is an autoimmune disease and this develops when our immune system starts assuming our healthy cells as foreign substances and starts fighting against them. In alopecia, the immune system attacks the hair follicles and eventually, these follicles decrease in size and stop producing hair, leading to hair loss.
The exact cause behind it is still unknown, but the researchers have seen that family history, genetics and the surrounding environment might play a role in causing this autoimmune disorder.
One of the main symptoms of alopecia areata is hair loss, that too from small patches on the scalp. These patches are of several centimeters or even less than it. Hair loss occurs from scalp, eyebrows, face, eyelashes and some other parts of the body. Some people lose hair in a few places while some face loss of hair at many spots.
The loss of hair can be sudden, developing in a few days or in a period of a few weeks. Before loss of hair, there is a sense of itching and burning on the affected area. If the hair follicle is not destroyed then hair can be regrown in such areas, but if it is damaged then hair loss is permanent.
Alopecia can also affect the fingernails and toenails and these changes are used to find out the breakout of this disease.
There is no cure for alopecia areata, but there are some treatments which can slow down the future hair loss or help in regrowing hair quickly. The condition is difficult to predict and for some people, this disease might even get severe after a proper treatment.
1. There are various tropical agents present in the market which can be applied on the scalp to stimulate hair growth. For example minoxidil can be used twice a day and is considered highly safe, but it can take years to see results.
2. Corticosteroid creams, lotions and ointments can be used to prevent inflammation of hair follicle.
3. Steroid injections are a common for treating patchy alopecia and to promote hair growth on bald spots. These are minute injections which inject steroids into the affected part of skin.
4. Oral treatments like cortisone tablets are sometimes used for treating alopecia, but it may have many side effects, so it's use should be minimal.
5. Immunosuppressants can also be used because they work by suppressing the immune system’s response, but its use should also be judicious because of the related side effects.
6. Light therapy also known as photochemotherapy involves radiation treatment with a combination of UV rays and oral medication.
- There are various home remedies available for treating alopecia areata. It is seen that people with alopecia prefer rubbing their scalp with onion juice or garlic juice, cooled green tea, almond oil, honey or coconut milk on the scalp.
- Some people also use alternative treatments like acupuncture, aromatherapy, microneedling for promoting hair regrowth on the scalp.
- Use of anti-inflammatory diets also known as autoimmune protocol, which mainly includes meat and green vegetables.
- Herbal supplements such as ginseng, green tea and saw palmetto are even used for its treatment.
All these alternative treatments are not clinically tested, so their effectiveness is not known. Even food and drug administration does not require supplement makers to prove the safety of their products. So, it is highly necessary to take the advice of a doctor before going for any sort of supplements.
The effectiveness of each treatment varies from person to person. Some would not require any treatment because their hair grows back and some, even after a treatment wont show any result.
This disease cannot be prevented because its cause is still unknown. The autoimmune disorder might arise due to many factors, that is the reason why its prevention is yet impossible.
1. What are the early signs of alopecia?
Sudden hair falls out in small patches on the scalp are the early signs of occurrence of alopecia and if it is left unnoticed then, these small patches may connect to form a larger visible spot. Some changes in fingernails and toenails are also seen on the onset of this disease.
2. Can female androgenetic alopecia be reversed?
No, it is not possible to reverse androgenetic alopecia because it causes aberration of normal hair growth cycle and damages the hair follicle preventing hair growth in them.
3. Is alopecia contagious?
Alopecia is the most common form of hair loss and it is not contagious, which means it cannot be transmitted from the person who is suffering from this disease.
4. What causes scarring alopecia?
Scarring alopecia is caused because of the inflammation in the hair follicle, resulting in its damage and leading to irreversible hair loss. So, if early measures are taken then it might be possible to regrow the hair back.