What is Alopecia Areata?
Posted on 5th November 2019 at 12:00
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease, which attacks the hair follicles in our body, resulting in hair loss. The extent of hair loss can be varied from person to person, and depends on which type of alopecia you develop.
How to identify alopecia
In the early stages of developing alopecia, you will notice small clumps of hair missing, usually on the scalp. Although, sudden hair loss can happen all over the body, such as eyebrows, eyelashes, scalp and other areas. The disease develops when your immune system starts attacking the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. The patches of hair missing are generally around the size of a coin, and although the hair will grow back after a few months, the hair can at first be very fine and even white, before returning to its original state.
What types of alopecia areata are there?
The extent of hair loss can vary massively, and has different names depending on how severe the symptoms are:
Localized Alopecia areata: The most common form of alopecia, where clumps of hair are lost around the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes. These patches can merge to become more noticeable, and although there is no cure for alopecia, areata is usually the most contained and treatable.
Alopecia totalis: A less common form of alopecia, this affects the entire scalp, resulting in complete hair loss around the area. This form of alopecia, although still treatable, can be a lot harder to conceal and therefore can be result in a loss of confidence and affect your overall mental wellbeing.
Alopecia universalis: A rare form of alopecia, resulting in the total loss of hair all over the body. This particular type of alopecia can cause burning and itching in the affected areas. Diagnosing Alopecia universalis can be done by observing the pattern of hair loss, which is very smooth, non-scarring and extensive.
Alopecia with other autoimmune diseases
People, who have developed alopecia areata, are more likely to develop other auto immune diseases alongside it, most commonly ones that affect the skin and hair. These need to be treated carefully, as treating one auto immune disease could in turn, make the other one worse.
Diagnosing alopecia can be quite a simple process. If you are worried that you may be developing symptoms of the disease, get in contact with your doctor so you can get it treated as early on as possible. They could be able to diagnose alopecia areata by simply looking at the extent of hair loss caused, and examining a few hairs under a microscope.
If this is not conclusive, or just needs further evaluation, a doctor may also perform a scalp biopsy, by taking a small sample of skin under your scalp and examine under a microscope. This is generally done to be sure that there is no other cause for the hair loss, such as fungal infections.
Blood tests may also be done if it is suspected you may be suffering from other auto immune diseases.
Treatment for alopecia
Although there is no known cure available for alopecia areata, there are a variety of treatments in which you can try to stimulate hair growth of slow down the process of hair loss in the future. There is no set way to improve the condition, and what works for others may not work for you. Some people suffer worse hair loss despite treatment.
Steroid injections are used to treat mild and patchy alopecia to encourage hair to grow back on the bald spots, using small needles to inject around the base of the affected bald spots.
You can also get over the counter treatments such as creams and oral supplements to help improve hair regeneration and growth.
Coping with alopecia
Alopecia affects around 2 in every 1000 people in the U.K alone. This condition is not uncommon, so sufferers shouldn’t feel alone when going through this disease. That said, alopecia can affect your mental health severely, as it alters your appearance and can really damage your self-confidence. This is common throughout all age groups and can be a very distressing time. If you are suffering from alopecia, please reach out for help and consult your doctor or dermatologist on what the best way forward is.
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