Alopecia areata, its causes, ways to deal with it, and is there a treatment?

Alopecia, or hair loss, is one of the most well-known autoimmune conditions that affects the scalp, leading to hair loss. It afflicts people of various ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities worldwide. In most cases, this condition develops before the age of thirty, initially showing noticeable gaps and patches in the scalp, eventually progressing to complete baldness.

This is why alopecia is a cause of concern for many individuals. When they notice an imbalance between hair loss and hair growth, they often rush to find the cause of the problem or seek effective treatments. In this article, we'll discuss the primary reasons for hair loss, specifically alopecia, and the correct ways to deal with this condition. We'll also explore whether there's a permanent cure for it.

What is Alopecia?

Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that affects hair follicles, causing them to fall out. In this condition, the body fails to recognize hair tissues and treats them as foreign entities, triggering an immune response. This immune reaction produces antibodies that attack the hair follicles, leading to permanent hair loss from the roots. It can also irritate the scalp, causing the formation of circular, itchy patches, which can progress over time to complete baldness or total hair loss.

Symptoms of Alopecia

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The causes of hair loss can be diverse, and not all hair loss is due to alopecia. If you notice hair loss, don't worry excessively, but pay attention to these symptoms commonly associated with alopecia:

  • Appearance of circular patches with lighter hair and tenderness upon touch.
  • Development of bald spots that slowly increase in size over time.
  • Significant hair weakness and easy hair loss.
These symptoms can be indicative of alopecia, but it's essential to consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment guidance.

People at Risk of Alopecia

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Alopecia affects individuals of all age groups and both genders, regardless of their ethnic background. In most cases, the condition becomes apparent during the second or third decade of life.

People who have other autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, and certain thyroid gland problems (Hashimoto's disease) are more susceptible to developing alopecia compared to others. Additionally, individuals with a family member affected by alopecia have an increased likelihood of developing the condition

How Serious is Alopecia?

Alopecia is not considered a serious illness because it doesn't affect one's overall health, and it doesn't cause pain or fatigue that would confine you to bed. However, it has a significant impact on one's appearance due to hair loss. This can disrupt the natural flow of an individual's social life and may lead to complex psychological crises.

Causes of Alopecia

Although the exact cause of alopecia remains unknown, scientists and researchers attribute the imbalance in the immune system and its attack on hair follicles to the role of genetics. They speculate the existence of a specific gene that triggers the immune system and leads to an autoimmune response against hair follicles. Environmental or psychological factors that intensify or trigger this immune response may also play a role in the development of alopecia.

Progression of Alopecia

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The rate at which this condition progresses varies from person to person, making it challenging to predict its spread accurately. Some cases can be easily treated, while others may develop the condition chronically, with no regrowth of hair. In most cases, alopecia remains localized, but it can spread across the entire scalp, leading to permanent baldness, or even affect the entire body, causing facial hair loss.

Treating Alopecia

There is no definitive or permanent solution for alopecia, but there are certain medications and treatments that can help control the disease's progression and reduce hair loss.

  • First and foremost, it's essential to ensure a proper diagnosis of alopecia by visiting a healthcare professional. This helps rule out other causes of hair loss, such as hormonal imbalances or nutritional deficiencies.
  • Once a diagnosis of alopecia is confirmed, your treating physician may prescribe medications that stimulate natural hair growth, often leading to the condition resolving on its own over time.

1. Treatments for Mild Cases of Alopecia

  • Topical Corticosteroids or Injections:

If hair loss is limited to a specific area of the scalp, you can use small amounts of corticosteroids topically or inject them directly into the bald patches. This approach helps prevent the spread of alopecia and gain control over it.

These medications work by suppressing the immune system and are commonly used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Hair typically starts to regrow in those bare spots within a few weeks of treatment. In general, these injections should be repeated approximately every 4 weeks for noticeable results.

  • Minoxidil Solution:

Minoxidil is used to promote hair growth and protect against hair loss in general. It's typically applied twice daily for at least two months to achieve noticeable results.

  • Anthralin Cream or Ointment:

Anthralin is usually used in the treatment of psoriasis as an oxidative agent that modifies the immune response. It helps control and prevent the spread of alopecia. Apply this cream to the bald areas of the scalp daily for at least half an hour, then rinse it thoroughly with water.

Anthralin cream is often used in combination with corticosteroids or minoxidil for optimal results.

2. Treatments for Advanced Cases of Alopecia

In cases of advanced alopecia that has spread over a large area of the scalp, doctors may resort to using stronger and more effective medications.

  • Immunosuppressive Tablets:

When applied topically to the skin, these tablets help stimulate hair growth in the affected bald areas. In most cases, hair starts regrowing after 8 to 14 weeks of treatment.

  • Oral Corticosteroids:

These have a more potent effect in suppressing the immune system and preventing the further spread of alopecia. However, this treatment method is sparingly used as it requires long-term use, which can pose additional health risks.

  • Photochemotherapy:

This treatment involves exposing the scalp to ultraviolet A (UVA) light in combination with the use of the drug psoralen, which can be taken orally or applied topically to the skin. Photochemotherapy is considered a viable option for cases of alopecia that have spread across a significant portion of the scalp.

It's important to emphasize the significance of psychological and emotional support for individuals on their journey to treat alopecia. Hair loss and the appearance of bald patches can significantly impact one's self-esteem and self-image, often leading to feelings of embarrassment and, in some cases, depression.

      Tips for Dealing with Alopecia

      • Protect Your Scalp from the Sun: Ensure that you shield your scalp from harmful UV rays by using sunscreen or wearing a hat, as hairless areas are more sensitive to sun exposure.
      • Wear Sunglasses: If alopecia affects your eyebrows and eyelashes, consider wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from excessive sunlight.
      • Consider Wigs or Hair-Thickening Sprays: To conceal bald patches on your scalp, you can opt for wigs or use hair-thickening sprays that mimic the appearance of real hair.

      In Summary:

      In most cases, alopecia spontaneously resolves after a certain period. However, it's essential to consult a medical professional and follow appropriate treatment measures to prevent rapid spread and permanent baldness. Additionally, offering psychological support to individuals dealing with alopecia is crucial. Let them know that there is no shame in experiencing hair loss, and this can help prevent them from falling into emotional crises, which may lead to depression.