While those affected by alopecia areata do not endure any physical problems, there are a number of emotional issues that can arise due to the severe hair loss experienced by sufferers. With proper help and hair loss treatment, as well as greater understanding from the public, people with alopecia can lead a normal life unaffected by their sudden hair loss issues.
What is Alopecia?
Alopecia is an autoimmune skin disease that results in hair loss both on the scalp and throughout the body. Although the condition is somewhat common, affecting almost 2% of the population and close to 5 million people in the US alone, alopecia is not well known by the public. As a result, sufferers of this condition can be significantly impacted, both in their personal and professional lives.
Alopecia is not a sex-specific disorder; it causes both female hair loss and male hair loss. Moreover, anyone of any age or race can be affected, with symptoms often first appearing in childhood.
Causes of Hair Loss
In individuals with alopecia, the ability to grow hair is not lost but temporarily stunted. Because the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicle, the follicles shrink and stop producing hair. However, they are not killed off entirely. Rather, they are simply waiting for a signal from your body to start growing hair again. People with alopecia often do start to grow hair again on their own, even after years of hair loss.
Experts aren't exactly sure what triggers the immune system response against the hair follicles or how long a person will have to put up with their hair loss. Therefore, it is difficult to stop hair loss from occurring when an individual is in an active phase of the disorder. Yet, there does seem to be some genetic link to the disease: one in five sufferers have another family member with alopecia.
Alopecia Areata Symptoms
In general, the main, and often only, sign of alopecia is hair loss. Typically, hair falls out in small, quarter-size patches on the scalp, usually not extending beyond a few bare patches. However, some may experience complete hair loss on the scalp, resulting in baldness while others may also lose hair on their face and body. In addition to hair loss, sufferers may notice tiny dents in their nails. In severe cases, the nails may even be distorted.
Alopecia causes no physical health problems. However, due to the stigma associated with hair loss, especially hair loss in women, it is not unusual for those with alopecia to have some emotional issues. Turning to support groups and professional counseling can help improve ones self-esteem and confidence, though.
Hair Loss Solutions
While it is entirely possible for hair to return on its own, there is currently no cure for alopecia. Additionally, there is no way to predict when hair will return. Therefore, the use of different hair loss treatments is available. Just how effective these hair loss remedies will be will depend upon a sufferer's age and extent of hair loss.
A typical hair loss remedy or hair loss product, while sometimes helpful for those with normal hair loss, like male pattern baldness, is often not strong enough for those with alopecia. Professional hair loss treatments for alopecia are necessary and include cortisone injections and pills; topical minoxidil (i.e. rogaine, although in a stronger formula than the usual hair loss products); anthralin cream or ointment, topical immunotherapy; photochemotherapy; sulfasalazine; topical sensitizers and wigs.
Those who prefer a natural hair loss treatment option may want to try acupuncture, aroma therapy, evening primrose oil, Chinese herbs, or zinc and vitamin supplements. It is important to speak to a professional about these hair loss treatment products before trying them in order to ensure appropriate doses and application techniques.