If you are experiencing patchy hair loss and are otherwise relatively healthy, you may have alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder causing reversible hair loss. The disorder may come in episodes and spontaneously resolve on its own. The condition may affect the overall quality of life in patients experiencing greater hair loss. If you want to learn more about this mysterious condition, then continue reading.
What is Alopecia Areata?
Although hair loss is frequently associated with stress; this is definitely not the case with alopecia areata. Alopecia is actually a result of malfunctioning immune systems where the body mistakes hair follicles for foreign material and attacking them through an immune reaction. Luckily, the immune system does not attack the hair follicle’s stem cells which make new hair growth following an alopecia episode possible. The only problem is that the hair follicles become small as a result of alopecia which leads to the new growth being fine and pale.
According to Water’s Edge Dermatology, most people with alopecia areata are completely healthy. However, people with this condition were found to be at a higher risk of asthma, nasal allergies, eczema, and other autoimmune disorders such as vitiligo and Hashimoto’s disease. Depression and anxiety are common disorders in patients with alopecia. One study on 50 alopecia patients from the Department of Dermatology of Hedi Chaker University Hospital found that as much as 52% of the patients presented with some symptoms of anxiety and depression. For this reason, emotional support and psychotherapy are recommended for those with persistent and recurring alopecia areata.
Prevalence and Appearance
It is estimated that 2% of the American population have this condition. The most affected are children and young adults although anyone can develop this condition. The best prognosis is in those who have smaller patches of hair loss. In such cases, the hair will grow back completely in a year although it may be of a finer texture and appear whiter. In more severe and chronic cases of alopecia, the hair may never grow back at all or grow back only slightly. The condition usually affects the scalp but can essentially affect any body area with hair. Alopecia appears as round bald spots without any signs of skin irritation. Small needlepoint pitting of the nails may also happen before the onset of alopecia.
The causes of alopecia just like many similar autoimmune conditions remains unknown. According to a review published in the Journal of the Saudi Society of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery, alopecia areata affects genetically predisposed individuals after exposure to certain environmental triggers. Studies have found some link between alopecia and the human leukocyte antigen (HLA). Vitamin imbalances may also play a role in the development of alopecia in genetically predisposed individuals.
Since there are no known causes of alopecia areata, the treatment options are limited and frequently ineffective. The treatment options are designed to control disease activity as much as possible. Some of the treatments for alopecia areata are listed here:
Different types of corticosteroids may be prescribed to suppress* the inflammatory process caused by the immune system. These can be taken orally, injected or applied in topical form. Topical corticosteroids are the best option for children because they are safe and don’t cause pain and discomfort. Systematic corticosteroids are the most dangerous types and are often not recommended in the treatment of alopecia due to their many side effects.
These work by causing allergic contact dermatitis upon application to change the skin’s immune response. Some common topical immunomodulators are diphenyl-cyclo-propenone (DPCP) and Dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB). These also carry some uncomfortable side effects such as skin redness, rashes, and scaling. There were also concerns regarding their safety in terms of their potential to cause cancer.
Anthralin creams are applied to the affected areas for up to 30 minutes daily for two weeks until low-grade skin irritation occurs. It works by suppressing the immune system through the generation of free radicals.
Short for psoralen plus ultraviolet light A, this form of therapy targets types of cells found in the hair follicles which some scientists believe may be causing alopecia areata. This form of therapy is relatively easy to carry out and does not cause any side effects. According to studies, the success rate is around 50 %.
Alopecia may not be dangerous, but those who have it know how frustrating the condition can get. Because the exact causes of alopecia are not known, the treatment options are limited and frequently unsuccessful. Most cases of alopecia are mild and recovery is spontaneous. Severe and chronic cases of alopecia demand more research and treatment options to help alopecia sufferers because this condition can lead to high levels of depression and anxiety. Wigs and makeup may help cover the bald spots while waiting for new hair to emerge.