Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that affects the hair follicles. A person with alopecia will experience widespread hair loss. Alopecia can affect all hair follicles, including the scalp, eyebrows, the face, eyelashes, and other places on the body. This condition often takes years to develop, and many patients experience periods of “remission” between bouts of hair loss.
Alopecia is a very common disease. It affects around 7 million people in the United States alone, and people of all sexes, ages, and ethnicities are at risk. However, most people with alopecia are generally otherwise healthy. While the symptoms of the condition may look concerning, the disorder is itself not a sign of a life-threatening illness.
There are no known alopecia cures, but there are a variety of treatments available to facilitate hair growth and improve a person’s confidence. While alopecia is not itself dangerous, patients with the condition often struggle with self-confidence and symptoms of anxiety. If you are interested in addressing your alopecia, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. Only a professional can provide a diagnosis and recommend a personalized treatment plan.
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system attacks the body itself, mistaking healthy cells for foreign bodies. In the case of alopecia, the hair follicles are the target of the immune system attack. As the follicles become smaller and less abundant, they stop producing hair. This, in turn, leads to patchy or widespread baldness.
As with many autoimmune conditions, doctors are unsure of alopecia’s exact cause. However, there are several risk factors that appear to contribute to the likelihood of developing the disease. These alopecia risk factors include:
Additionally, alopecia tends to be more common in people with melanated skin, particularly those of African descent. As is the case with other autoimmune conditions, people assigned female at birth are also more likely to develop alopecia. While these trends are visible in the research, few physicians have examined the condition’s exact pathology. This means that, while there are certain trends and patterns in who has or develops alopecia, there is little information about why the condition is common in those populations.
Hair loss is the most visible and widely experienced symptom of alopecia. In most cases, hair loss develops in patches. Some patients may see regrowth every few months, but additional bare patches may develop. Over time, small patches of hair loss can join with other to form larger swaths of baldness.
Hair loss typically begins as clumps of hair left places around the house, such as in the shower or on a pillow. People may also experience changes to the hairs themselves. For example, “exclamation mark” hairs may become more common. These hairs narrow at the base, indicating a problem with the follicle. Additionally, people with alopecia may experience “cadaver” hairs. This occurs when hairs grow but break before reaching the surface of the skin. Alopecia may also result in sparse white hairs the grow in bald patches.
Additionally, people with alopecia may experience changes to their fingernails and toenails. Ridges, pits, peeling, and splits may occur in the nail beds. In some cases, changes to the nails may be the first sign of alopecia. The risk of nail changes often correlates with the severity of the disease itself.
Yes, there are several types of alopecia. The type of alopecia with which a person is diagnosed will depend on its location, characteristics, and auxiliary symptoms. Here are the five most common types of alopecia.
The treatment your doctor recommends will rely on the type of alopecia with which you are diagnosed. If you are experiencing hair loss and are unsure why, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. Receiving a proper diagnosis is the first step toward treatment.
Most doctors will diagnose alopecia after observing the extent of an individual’s hair loss. In many cases, a doctor may examine hair samples under a microscope to examine the follicle. Doctors may also order a biopsy of the scalp to help rule out other conditions that may cause hair loss, like fungal infections.
If a doctor suspects other autoimmune conditions, they may order a range of blood tests. While these tests will vary based on what other autoimmune condition you may have, their primary function is to check for abnormal antibodies. These abnormal antibodies are a tell-tale sign of an autoimmune condition.
While most people won’t need a doctor to tell them they have hair loss, a diagnosis can provide peace of mind. If you suspect you have alopecia, connect with a dermatologist. They can diagnose and facilitate personalized treatment depending on your specific needs.
While there are no known alopecia cures, there is a wide variety of treatment options to help slow the condition or restore the follicles after hair loss. Keep in mind that most treatments are highly personalized; what works for one person might not work for another. Addressing hair loss often comes with a lot of trial and error. If a certain treatment does not work for you, move to the next best option. Here are some of the most common treatments for alopecia:
In addition to these treatments, some doctors advise patients to improve health in other areas of their lives. For example, many people believe that following an anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or FODMAP diet, can reduce the body’s autoimmune response.
While alopecia itself is not a dangerous health condition, it can severely affect a person’s self-confidence and outlook. Hair loss, especially at an early age, can be emotionally challenging. For people struggling with an alopecia diagnosis, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation facilitates support group meet-ups around the country. Alopecia is an extremely common condition, and being in community with other people can improve an individual’s quality of life.
Physiologically, alopecia prognoses are highly individualized and different for each patient. Some individuals will experience auxiliary autoimmune symptoms. However, there are certain strategies to combat the emotional challenges that come with widespread hair loss. For example, microblading, a form of tattooing, can restore the look of eyebrows. Eyelash extensions can restore eyelashes. For people with baldness, wigs can provide a much-needed source of confidence. Depending on how alopecia affects your life, there are a number of ways to improve your experience of the world.