Alopecia Areata

By Anubhav Gautam

Alopecia areata, or commonly referred to as ‘spot baldness,’ causes hair loss. It is an autoimmune disorder which causes the body to attack its own hair follicles, which in turn, results in the breakage of hair and the prevention of further hair growth. According to the research conducted by the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF), it is estimated that about 147 million of the world population suffers from Alopecia Areata at some point in their lives. Also, the same research found that approximately 6.8 million Americans have experienced Alopecia Areata.

Alopecia areata can occur in people of every age group, but teens and young people in their early twenties are more affected by this condition. Also, alopecia has sometimes been coined as a genetic disorder, with people with a family history of the disease being more vulnerable to it. Even if the exact reason for alopecia areata is a subject of debate, it isn’t hard to agree that breach of immune privilege in the hair causes this condition. Immune privilege is something that keeps the parts of our body safe from the attacks by our own body.

The hair loss in alopecia areata usually occurs in irregular patches around the hair. Given that alopecia further develops, the loss of hair could occur in other parts of the body too, for example, eyebrows and beard. However, this condition is relatively low, with about 5% of the alopecia areata patients developing further cases of the disease. Good to know, the variants of alopecia are:

  • Alopecia Areata: Losing Patches of Hair
  • Alopecia Totalis: Losing all hair on the scalp, and
  • Alopecia Universalis: It Means Losing All Hair on The Body

Alopecia Areata is *Not communicable. The hair loss may be temporary or permanent. In some cases, the hair loss and regrowth could be a continuous cycle.

Alopecia Causes And Risk Factors: What Are Some Alopecia Areata Causes?

Like said before, any form of alopecia is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease makes the body’s immunity system to fall out and attack its own part. In simpler terms, alopecia occurs when the disoriented immunity condition makes your body believe that your hair is an external anomaly. Due to which, your body attacks the hair follicles.

Also, people with alopecia areata might have a higher risk of:

Stress (and Anxiety)

Other autoimmune diseases, like thyroid disease and vitiligo

Asthma, allergies, and hay fever

Relatives with problems or asthma and allergies

Alopecia sometimes occurs alongside other skin conditions like Psoriasis and Atopic Dermatitis (usually called eczema).

Alopecia Areata Symptoms

Here are some alopecia symptoms:

  • Hair Loss: The loss is patchy and can occur around the hair — also, a lot of fallen hair on pillow, hands, shoulders, etc. The hair loss usually starts small, with most of the individual noticing coin-sized patches. The loss can further be spread to be bigger and around different parts of the body.
  • Weak Hair: Hair affected with alopecia tends to be weaker and breaks off easily when pulled.
  • Nail Dents: Alopecia also affects finger and toenails. People with alopecia have pitting on their nails, which are tiny dents. Also, the fingernails could become thin weak.

Alopecia Diagnosis

Diagnosis of alopecia isn’t at all complicated. Physicians, in most cases, can easily detect alopecia by looking at the trial subject. The clinical features are mostly enough and sometimes, tracheoscopy and biopsy needed to help check alopecia. Sometimes, blood tests for alopecia areata could be scheduled if the dermatologist is suspicious of the patient suffering from other genetic conditions.

Alopecia Areata Treatment

Treatment might not be needed in some cases, as hair regrows normally after the series of hair fall. But in other cases, here are some

Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids is the first approach to alopecia treatment.  It is usually vaccinated, in the places where hair loss has occurred, and sometimes, it can be a cream, ointment or lotion. Also, in rare cases, corticosteroids pills could also be recommended. But the pills might have serious side effects, so are only given to those who have many bald spots. The major purpose of corticosteroid is to suppress the immune system. Corticosteroids shots are given every 3 to 6 weeks.

Hair regrowth is expected after about four months or more after the last corticosteroid shot being applied.

Minoxidil: Minoxidil is another way of treatment of alopecia, and patients, in most cases, use it with another treatment method. It is a hair- regrowth medicine, and is seen to be effective in both, adults and children and applied twice a day in the area of hair loss.

The expected hair re-growth period is three months.

Anthralin: Anthralin is another way of treatment of alopecia, and the patient applies it to the affected area and leaves be for about 20 minutes to an hour. Any further period of anthralin remaining in the skin could cause irritation.  

Diphencyprone (DPCP): Diphencyprone (DPCP), when applied to the bare skin, causes a small allergic reaction. Doctors believe that this allergic reaction will trick the immune system to think something is wrong and due to which, white blood cells are sent to the area of swelling and itching (where the allergic reaction occurs), and this will fight inflammation and hair loss.

DPCP might take three months or more to work.

Alternative Treatments: There are various other alternative treatment measures such as acupuncture, ‘special ointments,’ walnut oil, ginger paste, etc. which are said to help alopecia. However, most of these treatments don’t have chemical trials backing them. What can be said is that following a healthy lifestyle and being away from stress are seen to be a considerable help for alopecia.