What is Alopecia?
Alopecia, or alopecia areata, is a condition of the scalp that leads to damaged hair follicles, and subsequently, hair loss.
Typically, hair will fall out in circular formation in different areas of the scalp, leading to round bald patches. Other than bald patches, and the emotional aspect of having the condition, there are no other side effects, and alopecia is not contagious.
Alopecia Areata is a condition that causes round patches of hair loss. It can lead to total hair loss.
Some types of baldness can be caused by alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder. The extreme forms of alopecia areata are alopecia totalis, which involves the loss of all head hair, and alopecia universalis, which involves the loss of all hair from the head and the body.
What Are The Causes of Alopecia?
The exact cause of alopecia is still unknown. The condition occurs when the immune system begins to attack the hair follicles. Normally, the immune system attacks foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses in an effort to expel them from the body. In the case of alopecia, for some reason, the immune system mistakes the hair follicles as foreign, and goes about ‘destroying’ them just like they would bacteria. Unfortunately scientists have yet to deduce exactly why the immune system mistakes the hair follicles as foreign entities of the body.
What Are The Symptoms of Alopecia?
The first symptom of alopecia is hair loss. Typically, hair will fall out in round patches, leaving completely smooth circular bald patches on the scalp. However, any of the following symptoms can also occur:
- Hair becomes thinner in round patches on the scalp, but does not fall out entirely
- Hair breaks off in round patches leaving behind short stubby hair, sometimes referred to as exclamation point hair
- Rarely, patients may experience complete and total hair loss including body hair
There doesn’t seem to be any pattern or timeline to when symptoms of alopecia occur. In other words, a patient may experience a bout of alopecia in one area of the scalp, which will then regrow. Subsequently, another patch of hair may fall out in another area of the scalp. Conversely, the patient may not experience any further bout of hair loss at all.
Unfortunately for some patients, the hair loss can be permanent. Studies show that patients are more likely to experience this permanent loss if the following characteristics or conditions are present:
- Develop alopecia at a very young age pre-puberty
- Have a bout of alopecia that lasts for a year or longer
- Have a family history of alopecia
- Suffer from an auto-immune disease or condition
- Suffer from allergies on a regular basis
- Have abnormal finger and toenails (with a strange shape or color)
Who is at Risk of Alopecia?
While anyone can develop the condition of alopecia, it seems to mainly occur in people twenty years of age or younger. The condition can affect men and women alike. If you suffer from a pre-existing auto-immune disorder, or problems with your thyroid, your risk of developing alopecia increases.