Alopecia Areata

Alopecia Areata

What is alopecia areata?

Close-up of alopecia areata (hair patches).Non-scarring hair loss, known as alopecia areata (pronounced al-o-pee-she-uh ar-e-a-tuh), is often a traumatic and stressful experience for those affected by this condition. It is thought to be an acquired autoimmune skin disease that affects hair-bearing skin (commonly the scalp, bearded portion of the face and eyebrows). Hair loss is typically localised and may occasionally be associated with underlying medical health disorders. Hormonal changes are thought to play a role, as well as the use of certain medications.

Most medical professionals agree that there appears to be a significant genetic link, whereby non-scarring hair loss is an inheritable condition. Hair loss due to alopecia areata can occur at any age, and some congenital cases have been reported although this is rare and the condition is seldom seen in individuals before the age of 3. It is most common in those below the age of 30, with nearly half experiencing hair loss before turning 21 (particularly in the 15-29 age group) (1) and affects both men and women.

Considered an autoimmune condition, a person’s immune system abnormally ‘attacks’ hair follicles in hair-bearing skin (as it mistakes these hair growth cells for harmful invaders), resulting in inflammation. The result of this is sudden hair loss in the affected areas (characterised as asymmetric areas of balding).

Hair typically falls out in small patches, and for most individuals, occurs in just a single patch at a time (although multiple patches of hair loss are also experienced by some). In many instances of alopecia areata, bald patches spontaneously regrow hair as damage to the hair follicles is not usually permanent. Hair may however, not always grow back. It is also possible that hair which does regrow, falls out again. How much hair falls out, and that which regrows does tend to vary from person to person.

The most common hair loss pattern is normally one of a well-defined patch (or patches) being visible somewhere on the scalp. A pattern of hair loss that occurs all over the scalp is typically referred to as diffuse alopecia areata (generalised hair loss). Some may experience hair loss that affects the entire scalp area, this is known as alopecia totalis. In rare instances, the entire body may experience hair loss, this is known as alopecia universalis.

At present, there is no cure for alopecia areata, but a variety of available treatments can help with the quicker restoration of hair growth, as well as reducing the risk of further hair loss.

Reference:

1. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2010. Management of alopecia areata: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230136/  [Accessed 28.11.2017]

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