Alopecia is the name given to the loss of hair. We all know that type of alopecia called androgenetic alopecia
where men, and even some women, at a younger or older age start to go bald and the baldness is permanent. However, alopecia areata
is the more unusual condition when the body's immune system attacks hair follicles, causing hair to fall out.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition but the cause is unknown. The immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue.
Surprisingly, those who develop alopecia areata are generally in good health although some sufferers may have other autoimmune disorders, including thyroid disease.
What causes Alopecia?
- Some scientists believe that there can be a genetic predisposition where a family history of alpecia areata makes it more likely that a person will develop it as approximately one fifth of all those with the condition do have a family history.
- It is also thought that a trigger, such as a virus or something unknown in the environment, could set off the condition.
- Alopecia areata is seen in men, women and children. A major life event such as an illness, pregnancy or trauma occurs before the hair loss in some but not all.
The signs and symptoms of alopecia areata and closely linked conditions
- Alopecia areata -there are patches of hair loss, usually on the scalp, but they also can be in the beard or other areas. The symptoms usually start with one to two patches, most often on the scalp, but they may also be seen in the beard, eyebrows, and on the arms or legs. Roundish patches of hair loss are smooth, and may be peach-colored. Hairs that look like exclamation points are sometimes seen at the edges of a bald patch.
- Alopecia totalis – there is a complete loss of scalp hair often within 6 months after symptoms first start.
- Alopecia universalis – there is a total loss of all scalp and body hair. Most of the time there are no other symptoms besides hair loss, but some people may feel a burning sensation or itching.
To get a positive diagnosis of alopecia areata, a scalp biopsy may be performed. Several blood tests may also be done, because alopecia areata may occur with other autoimmune and these have to be confirmed or ruled out.
Typical conventional medical treatment
- Steroid injection under the skin surface
- Topical corticosteroids which is usually given by injection in the scalp each month while In severe cases, corticosteroids may be taken orally
- Topical immunotherapy
- Topical minoxidil
- Ultraviolet light therapy
- Irritating drugs may be applied to hairless areas to cause the hair to regrow
If hair loss is not widespread, the hair will likely regrow in a few months, whether or not treatment is used but even for more severe hair loss, it is not clear whether treatments will change the course of the condition. So while full recovery of hair is common, permanent hair loss is a possible complication of alopecia areata.
Some sufferers may have a less than rosy outcome, including those with the following conditions
- Those who develop alopecia areata at a young age
- Those who already have eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Those who have long-term alopecia
- Those with a more widespread or complete loss of scalp or body hair
Natural remedies can be tried
- Biotin (300 mcg per day) and trace minerals, such as those found in blue-green algae (2 - 6 tablets per day), may promote hair growth. Biotin and zinc aspartate have been used to treat alopecia areata in children. Biotin is naturally found in chard, romaine lettuce, carrots and tomatoes.
- Aromatherapy as studies have found that massaging the scalp with a combination of several essential oils improved hair growth. The oils used were lavender, rosemary, thyme and cedar wood. The essential oils are mixed with a “carrier” oil – for example jojoba or grape seed oil - before applying to skin as otherwise they would be far too potent. Add 3 - 6 drops of essential oil to 1 tb of jojoba or grape seed oil and then massage into scalp daily. Such therapeutic massage increases circulation (helping bring more blood to the scalp) and reduces stress.