Not to be confused with androgenetic alopecia, or hereditary hair loss, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder. It can lead to unpredictable hair loss, and unfortunately modern medicine hasn’t figured out exactly why it occurs.
Alopecia areata is more common than you might assume, affecting 2 percent of Americans, or roughly 6.5 million people. Unlike hereditary hair loss which generally manifests later in life, alopecia areata typically occurs before the age of 30.
Alopecia Areata Causes
Alopecia areata can be frightening. Hair loss progresses abruptly and rapidly. One in five patients who suffers from alopecia areata has a family member with the same condition. In addition, individuals who have a personal or family history with other autoimmune disorders could be more prone to developing alopecia. Medical scientists do not believe the condition is caused by stress, but high anxiety could trigger alopecia to begin. Individuals who suffer just a few patches of hair loss often undergo a full recovery. Unfortunately, total hair loss is more difficult to bounce back from.
Essentially, this condition is caused by the immune system and white blood cells attacking the hair follicles, causing them to shrink and subsequently slow down hair production. Alopecia begins in hair loss of quarter-sized patches. The hair follicles are not destroyed and can regrow strands as soon as the inflammation dwindles.
Symptoms and recovery
For most people, the condition doesn’t progress past this point, but many patients see total hair loss across the scalp, face and body. Total hair loss on the scalp driven by this autoimmune disorder is referred to as alopecia totalis, while total hair loss across the body is called alopecia universalis. Both of these more severe conditions affect about 10 percent of individuals suffering from alopecia.
Some patients say they have itching or burning prior to losing hair. Other symptoms sometimes become apparent in the nails with dents, white spots, lines, rough texture, dullness, and thinning or splitting.
Around 30 percent of patients suffer alopecia long-term or experience repetitive cycles of patchy hair loss. Half of patients recover within the first year, although multiple episodes are common. Sometimes, the recovered hair is white instead of the patient’s natural color.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia. However, doctors can prescribe corticosteroids to suppress the immune system. The most common way to take these anti-inflammatory drugs is through local injections, but can also be taken via ointment or oral tablets.
Doctors may recommend Minoxidil, or Rogaine, as a treatment method. While topical treatments can help to an extent, it will not stop your body from creating new bald patches. Some patients turn to homeopathic medicines and acupuncture, but medical evidence does not fully support these methods.
For more information on alopecia areata and other types of hair loss that could be treated with hair restoration or low-level laser therapy, contact the Miami Hair Transplant Institute at 205-448-9100.