Alopecia (areata) is an auto-immune disease causing hair loss that occurs when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles in the skin. Alopecia is most common in people under 20-years-old, but anyone can be affected. Alopecia is distinct in its appearance, as clumps of hair fall out, leaving bald patches. In rare cases, complete loss of scalp and body hair occurs. The hair will usually grow back over several months in one area but can fall out in another. About 10% of people who experience alopecia do not re-grow hair.
Medicine does not know the underlying cause of this condition, but you could be more likely to experience alopecia if you have a genetic predisposition, have another autoimmune disease, or are prone to allergies.
What are the symptoms?
Alopecia usually appears as one or more bald patches on the scalp, usually round in shape. There can also be instances of mild redness, scaling or itching accompanying the baldness. In many cases, the bald patch re-grows hair after a few months. If and when the hair grows back, it may look grey or white for a while, before regaining its natural color. More bald patches can develop after the first, simultaneously or later on. Patches of other body hair, including the beard, eyebrows, or eyelashes may also be affected. Severe alopecia can involve the loss of all scalp and/or body hair. A sufferer’s nails can also be affected, changing their texture to a rough one.
How is it treated?
Alopecia areata cannot be cured, but can be treated. However, because hair often grows back on its own, many people choose not to treat the condition.
The most common treatment for alopecia-related hair loss is a program of corticosteroids injections into the scalp, over a period of weeks. One could also receive topical corticosteroids that are applied to the affected skin. Over-the-counter Minoxidil (Rogaine) may be used along with topical corticosteroids. Contact immunotherapy is a treatment method that triggers an allergic reaction on the scalp that may help hair to grow, but can also have severe side effects. Psoralen with ultraviolet A light (PUVA) therapy may also be used to treat alopecia areata in patients with large-scale hair loss.
Some sufferers attest to the topical application of diluted lavender oil or onion juice as treatments for alopecia. The addition of vitamin B, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids to one’s diet can also help promote new hair growth.
Do you have questions about alopecia? Can you recommend treatments that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below…