Alopecia Areata: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Do you observe bouts of hair fall while brushing or taking a shower? You might be suffering from Alopecia Areata.
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease the affects your hair follicles and as a result, you start losing hair frequently.
Learn more about Alopecia in this guide.
Alopecia Areata Overview
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition that causes your hair to fall, however, the amount of hair fall may vary for everyone.
Moreover, it is important to note that in the United States alone, it affects roughly 6.8 million individuals.
Now imagine the number worldwide.
Keep on reading to learn more about it.
Your hair may fall out in small patches around the size of a quarter in most cases
However, the hair loss is nothing more than a few patches but can be more extreme in certain cases.
Moreover, in some cases, it can lead to complete hair loss on the scalp, or alopecia totalis, or in extreme cases, affect the entire body or Alopecia Universalis.
It is important to note that the condition can affect anyone regardless of age and gender, though it occurs mostly before the age of 30.
Types of Alopecia Areata
There are different types of alopecia areata and each type is characterized by the extent of hair loss and other symptoms you might be experiencing. People with alopecia areata have bald patches on the affected area when their immune system attacks the hair follicles.
Moreover, each type may have a different treatment and prognosis.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
The main characteristic of this type is one or more coin-sized patches of hair loss on your skin or body.
Moreover, if it expands, it can become Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis.
This one occurs when you have hair loss across your entire scalp.
In this condition, along with the hair on the scalp, you will also lose hair on the face, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
It is also possible to lose hair on other parts of the body as well.
Diffuse Alopecia Areata
It may look a lot like Female or Male-pattern hair loss, and often results in sudden and unexpected thinning of hair.
The thinning of hair is often on the entire scalp, not just in one area or patch.
Ophiasis Alopecia The type of hair loss that follows a band along the sides and lower back of your scalp.
Now, let’s learn about the causes of Alopecia Areata.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease.
An autoimmune disease occurs when the white blood cells on your body attack their own cells and mistake them as foreign bodies.
Moreover, the causes of autoimmune conditions are often unknown and any foreign body like a virus, bacteria, etc. can trigger it.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition and develops when the white blood cells in your body mistakenly attack their own cells.
However, in the case of alopecia areata, the white blood cells attack the hair follicles.
Normally, your immune system is responsible to defend your body against foreign invaders like viruses, bacteria, etc.
But if you have this condition, your hair follicles are affected.
Hair follicles are the structures from which your hair grows. The follicles become small and stop producing hair, thus, leading to hair loss.
Many researchers do not know what exactly causes this condition.
However, in most cases, it occurs in people who have a family history of other autoimmune conditions.
These are type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
This is why many researchers and doctors are of the view that this condition may be due to genetics.
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Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
Hair loss is often common in both men and females, however, it is also one of the major symptoms of alopecia areata.
It is important to note that in this condition, your hair falls out in small patches on the scalp. These patches are often several inches or less.
Let’s learn the symptoms in detail.
Hair loss might loss is one of the major symptoms of alopecia areata, however, it can also occur on other parts of the face, like your eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard.
Moreover, it can also affect other parts of your body as well. You might have hair loss in a few places, while other individuals may lose it in a lot of spots on the face and on the body.
You may first notice clumps of hair on your pillowcase or in the shower, and if the spots are in the back of your head, someone may bring them to your notice.
It is important to note that other health conditions can also cause your hair to fall out in a similar pattern.
Hair loss alone is not the only diagnosis of alopecia areata.
In rare cases, some people may even experience more extensive hair loss and this is typically the indication of another type.
This can be:
- Alopecia Totalis: complete hair loss on the scalp
- Alopecia Universalis: hair loss on the entire body
Your doctor may use the term ‘totalis’ and ‘universalis’ as some individuals may experience something between the two.
For instance, it is possible to lose all hair on the arms, legs, and scalp, but not on the chest.
Moreover, the hair loss associated with alopecia areata is unpredictable and according to many doctors and researchers, it can be spontaneous.
Your hair may grow back at any time and then may fall again. The extent of hair loss and regrowth varies from one person to another.
Alopecia Areata in Men and Women
Alopecia occurs in both men and women, however, the loss of hair is more likely to be significant in men.
Moreover, men are more likely to have a family history of hair loss.
Many of them experience hair loss in their facial hair, as well as on the scalp, chest, and back hair.
Moreover, as compared to male-pattern baldness, hair loss from this condition causes patchy hair loss.
On the other hand, women can also develop alopecia, and hair loss can be visible on the scalp as well as eyebrows and lashes.
Unlike female-pattern hair loss, it can be confined to small areas of the scalp.
Moreover, the hair loss may occur all at one and may also spread gradually which results in greater hair loss.
Alopecia Areata in Children
Children can also develop alopecia areata.
In fact, most people before the age of 30 experience this condition.
While it may be heredity, parents with this condition do not always pass this to their children.
In the same way, children with this type may not have either of their parents with this condition.
Additionally, children may also experience other defects like nail defects, pitting, or lesions. Moreover, these additional symptoms are more common in children.
According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, children who are younger than age 5 may experience an emotional impact from alopecia.
Moreover, hair loss can be traumatizing for young children as they start noticing how different they are from others.
Thus, if your child appears to be stressed or depressed, you can ask or consult a pediatrician to recommend a counselor that has experience with such children.
Prognosis and Diagnosis of Alopecia Areata
The prognosis of alopecia is different for different people and s often unpredictable.
However, once you develop this autoimmune condition, you may live with bouts of hair loss and other related symptoms for your whole life.
Let’s discuss the prognosis and diagnosis in detail.
Prognosis of Alopeica Areata
The prognosis of this condition is different for every individual
You may experience bouts of hair loss your entire life. The same variation applies to recovery:
In some cases, individuals can experience full regrowth of hair.
On the other hand, some may not.
Moreover, there may be additional hair loss in some individuals.
If you have this condition, poor outcomes are associated with the following factors:
- early age of onset
- extensive hair loss
- nail changes
- family history
- having a number of autoimmune diseases
Diagnosis of Alopecia
Your doctor will be able to diagnose this condition by just looking at your hair loss and examining a few strands of hair under a microscope.
Moreover, they may also perform a scalp biopsy to rule other the presence of other conditions like fungal infections.
During this procedure, they will remove a small piece of skin on your scalp for analysis.
Blood tests can also help if your doctor suspects other autoimmune disorders.
The specific blood test depends on the particular disorder your doctor suspects.
However, they are likely to test for the presence of one or more abnormal antibodies.
If these antibodies are present in your blood, it means that you have an autoimmune disorder.
Moreover, they might also test for thyroid hormones, free and total testosterone, follicle-stimulating, and luteinizing hormone.
There is no cure for alopecia areata, however, there are certain treatments that you can try at home. These might be able to slow down future hair loss or help your hair grow back more quickly.
It is important to note that the condition is unpredictable and requires a large amount of trial and error until you find something that works for you.
Let’s discuss the treatment options in detail:
You can rub medications into your scalp to help stimulate hair growth. There are a number of medications available, both OTC, over-the-counter, and by prescription.
This one is an OCT medication and you can apply it twice to your scalp, eyebrows, and beard.
It is relatively safe, however, can take a year to see results.
Anthralin or Dritho-Scalp irritates the skin in order to spur hair growth.
Corticosteroids These creams like clobetasol, foams, lotions, and ointments work by decreasing inflammation in the hair follicles.
This is a technique in which a chemical like diphencyprone is applied to the skin to spark an allergic reaction.
The risk may look like poison oak and may induce hair growth within 6 months, but you will have to continue the treatment to maintain the regrowth.
Other Medical Treatments
Other medical treatments are as follows:
Steroid injections are common for mild conditions of alopecia to help grow your hair back on bald spots.
Your doctor will inject tiny needles into the bare skin. You will have to repeat the treatment for one or two months to regrow hair.
However, it does not prevent new hair loss from occurring. Thus, always seek medical advice before using them.
Cortisone tablets can be used for extensive alopecia, however, you should consult your doctor before using them.
Moreover, oral immunosuppressants are another option you can try.
Light therapy or Photochemotherpay or phototherapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses a combination of oral medications, psoralens, and UV light.
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Natural Treatment Options
You can also have alternative therapies to treat this condition.
These are as follows:
Aromatherapy, acupuncture, microneedling, probiotics, low-level laser therapy, LLLT, aloe vera drinks, and topical gels.
Moreover, you can use vitamins, like zinc and biotin, onion juice, essential oils like tea tree oil, lavender, other oils like coconut, olive, and jojoba oil.
Replace your regular diet with an ‘anti-inflammatory’ diet or autoimmune protocol, scalp massage, and use herbal supplements like ginseng, green tea, Chinese hibiscus, and saw palmetto.
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Diet and Prevention
Foods high in sugar content, processed foods, and alcohol can increase inflammation and irritation within the skin.
You may want to consider following an “anti-inflammatory” diet.
It helps to reduce autoimmune responses in your body and decreases the chances of hair loos episodes or further hair loss.
The foundational foods of this diet or autoimmune protocol are fruits and vegetables like blueberries, nuts, seeds, broccoli, beets, and lean meats like salmon.
You can not prevent alopecia because its causes are unknown.
This autoimmune disease is a result of many factors and includes family history, other disorders, and even skin conditions.
However, not everyone with this will develop a hair condition.
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Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that targets your hair follicles and causes hair loss in patches.
You can get treatment by using OTC or prescription medications or consult your doctor and discuss the use of other medical treatments.