Hair loss can come in many forms — a reclining hairline, reduced hair mass, thinning temples, etc. But if you notice that your hair has started to fall out in patches, you are most likely dealing with alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is a fairly common form of hair loss, affecting around two percent of the population at some point in life. It is second only to androgenetic hair loss, whose reach covers 50 percent of men, and women aren't left out of the equation either.
A few missing patches of hair can be upsetting, but this form of alopecia areata is relatively harmless and may be managed effectively with the right methods. However, different forms of this condition exist. Its most advanced variation is the complete loss of hair, not only on the scalp but also the whole body — this may not be as easily controlled.
We'll be learning about the causes of alopecia areata, its types, and possible treatment methods.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. This is where your body's immune system wrongly identifies harmless cells as dangerous outsiders and attacks them. In this case, the hair follicles are targeted, compromising their immunity.
The exact cause of this form of hair loss is still up for debate. Some believe it may result from an infection, much like tinea captis — a fungal infection that also leads to a patchy loss of hair. Its appearance following exposure to thallium, a toxic, odorless metal also led to associations with accidental poisonings.
However, the most widely accepted explanation paints alopecia areata as a disorder of the hair follicle cycle.
When the inflammatory cells wrongly attack, they go against hair follicles that are in the anagen stage of the growth cycle. This is the first stage of the cycle, when the hair follicle begins to grow.
This attack pushes the hair follicles prematurely into the second phase of growth, otherwise known as the catagen phase. Ideally, this is where the hair follicle transitions out of its growth phase.
Following this, the affected hair follicles are pushed to the telogen or resting stage, which is usually when the hair follicle rests and the club hair is completely formed.
The changes made to the hair follicle lead to a weakness in the hair shaft. This causes the hair to break easily when it emerges onto the skin surface, leading to hair loss.
However, while hair follicles are attacked, the hair follicle stem cells from which new hair grows are left unaffected.
This usually spells good news for hair growth, as the follicles are able to go through the growth cycle and produce new hairs.
Beyond an immune reaction however, other factors may contribute to the emergence of alopecia areata.
High levels of free radicals — atoms that can damage the body's cells and cause illness, have been discovered in people living with this condition. This suggests that free radicals may have a role to play in the formation of alopecia areata.
Likewise, environmental triggers such as emotional or physical stress after a painful loss may trigger cell death in hair follicles. Vaccinations like the hepatitis B shot and medication used to treat psoriasis have also been linked to alopecia areata.
While alopecia areata is easily recognized by missing patches of hair on the scalp, different forms of this condition exist, with some variants going beyond the hair to affect other parts of the body
Alopecia areata is a non-scarring form of hair loss, meaning it doesn't lead to blemishes on the parts of the body affected. However it does come with some noticeable symptoms, some of which include:
To help manage alopecia areata, the following treatment methods may be adopted:
Alopecia areata is a faily common form of hair loss which can be singled out for its patchy pattern.
Other forms of this condition exist, with extreme forms leading to the loss of hair on parts of the body with hair.
Different methods are available to help with managing this condition, with corticosteroids being the most widely accepted. Others include immunotherapy and minoxidil.
For the best results, check in with a trichologist to determine the option most suited for your needs.