Alopecia areata is a skin disease causing loss of hair or patches of baldness all over the body with these bald areas re-grow their hair spontaneously. In other words, Alopecia areata is one type of hair loss that typically causes patches of baldness and, in some cases, might develop into total baldness. Even though the hair re-grows typically after several months, the hair loss might become permanent.
Alopecia areata tends to occurs most often in teens and adults. However, it can also affect older individuals but rarely toddlers. Alopecia areata is not contagious, so one does not have to worry about catching from or spreading to other people. Alopecia areata must not be confused with normal hair fall or hair shedding which might happen due to medical treatments, therapies and other reasons.
Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
- In Alopecia areata, typical pattern is for one or more bald patches to appear on the scalp and all look like round in shape about the size of a large coin which grows quite quickly. Usually patients don’t find other problems as they have healthy scalp and there is no scarring but occasionally patients feel some mild redness, scaling, burning, or a slightly itchy feeling on the bald patches.
- It is really very difficult to predict how it will grow next after developing the bald patches but one or more bald patches may occur a few weeks after the first one.
- Normally one or more bald patches develop a few weeks after the first one. It can then appear as if small bald patches rotate around different areas of the scalp over a period of time. But in few typical conditions several small bald patches might develop and merge into a larger bald area.
- Patches of body hair, beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes may be affected in majority of the cases. Oftentimes large bald patches develop in patients or they lose all their scalp hair. This condition is called alopecia totlis.
- In many instances all scalp hair, body hair, beard, eyebrows, and eyelashes are lost. This is called alopecia universalis. In such situations patient’s nails might also get affected and can become pitted or ridged.
In such condition patients become self conscious, anxious or distressed by the appearance of the hair loss.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
- It occurs due to abnormality in the immune system and is also called autoimmune disease which makes white blood cells that is lymphocytes and antibodies to protect against foreign object (bacteria, viruses etc.).
- Autoimmunity is a misguided immune system that tends to attack its own body and particular tissues of the body. It also attacks the hair follicles (roots) and disrupts normal hair formation.
- Alopecia areata makes many white blood cells gather around the affected hair roots, and hair becomes weak and falling out becomes the reason of the bald patches.
- In alopecia areata, only certain areas of the scalp get affected and the affected hair follicles are not destroyed and remain capable of growing normal hair again. As soon as the immune reaction is gone, the situation returns to normal.
- Alopecia areata patients also have a slightly higher than average chance of developing other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, thyroid disorders, pernicious anaemia, arthrities and vitiligo.
- Alopecia areata is hereditary and often occurs within family members.
Treatment of Alopecia Areata
There are lots of treatments available but if patients have small bald patches then dermatologists advise to wait for the bald patches to re-grow by themselves without treatment. But, mostly, they need treatment as the longer the periods of time of hair loss and the larger the area involved, the less likely the hair will re-grow. The treatments options are:
- Dermatologists prescribe steroid creams, gels, and shampoos. But, if these do not show positive results within six months then it is not advisable to continue the treatment.
- For small patches of alopecia areata, steroid injections can prove to be an effective treatment as it suppresses the local immune reaction that occurs in alopecia areata. But, even this may not work as expected and, also, steroid injections are not suitable for large bald areas.
- Topical immunotherapy is suitable for the patients having large patches of alopecia areata and can give good results but might not be without side effects.
- Minoxidil solution is another treatment available for large patches of alopecia areata, rubbed into the bald patches and has been shown to promote hair re-growth. This treatment is very expensive and not suitable for everybody.
Other treatments available for alopecia areata are Psoralen combined with ultraviolet A (PUVA) light therapy or phototherapy, wigs and dermatography (Tattooing). Never take any of the treatments unless prescribed by a doctor or specialist. It is also advisable to use sunblock or a hat or an umbrella to protect bald patches from sun rays
As with many chronic disorders for which there is no single treatment, a variety of remedies are promoted which in fact have no benefit. There is no known effective method of prevention, although the elimination of emotional stress
is felt to be helpful. The success rate for the various treatments is probably not high. So, it can be said there is no guarantee that any hair re-grown during treatment will persist once the treatment is finished.