Alopecia areata is a type of hair loss that causes patches of baldness to appear on the scalp. It is an autoimmune condition that arises when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, specifically the hair follicles. This interferes with hair growth and causes hair to fall out. Patches of hair loss may range in size from the diameter of a small coin (common in the early stages of the condition) to larger, interconnected areas of hair loss. Alopecia areata may occur in any area of the body in which hair growth naturally occurs, but it is most commonly found to affect hair on the scalp.
Causes of Alopecia areata
Alopecia areata typically progresses quite rapidly and may be relatively sudden in onset. The true cause of Alopecia areata remains unknown, although evidence suggests that it is a non-communicable disease caused by an abnormality within the immune system that causes a misdirected auto-immune response to occur. This means the body’s own immune system becomes self-destructive and consequently begins to attack certain tissues of the body – in this case, the hair follicles.
In our experience at SRS Hair Clinic, this condition is most frequently seen in young children or teenagers, although we have also treated adults presenting with Alopecia areata. According to current knowledge, it appears to affect men and women equally. There are strong suggestions of genetic links, with the condition occurring more frequently in individuals with affected family members compared to isolated cases with no familial associations. After three decades of treating a broad range of hair loss signs and symptoms, we find that Alopecia areata often presents in individuals with a family history of other autoimmune conditions, ranging from allergies to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, rheumatic fever, psoriasis and vitiligo.
Types of Alopecia areata
In a small percentage of cases, Alopecia areata may progress to complete hair loss over the entire scalp (Alopecia totalis). Even less frequently, it may become widespread across the whole body (Alopecia universalis) in which all body hair is lost, inclusive of eyebrows, eyelashes and even pubic hair.
Prognosis of Alopecia areata
In some cases, hair loss in Alopecia areata may resolve and subsequently re-occur within a short timeframe, typically a year or so. Any hair that regrows typically tends to be fine and downy in nature and may appear unpigmented, and without external help may remain this way. As the condition is thought to be autoimmune in nature, it is likely to recur over time. Hair loss may also remain permanent in some individuals or progress to Alopecia totalis or Alopecia universalis, although this is relatively rare.
It is also important to acknowledge the psychological repercussions of hair loss. These are often overlooked, but are as vital to an individual’s sense of wellbeing as the physical problem itself. In many people, hair loss can be a great source of emotional distress and may cause affected individuals to shy away from social interaction or develop symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly in younger individuals. The emotional consequences of Alopecia areata are therefore significant.
Treatment of Alopecia areata
We have treated many cases of Alopecia areata over the years and have helped our clients successfully regain their hair. As a first step, we perform a microscopic hair analysis which allows us to ascertain the health of the hair root and the scalp. There are many signs that may be indicative of various problems within the hair root, the nutrient chain, excess hormone production, the growth cycle of the hair, and more. During our microscopic hair analysis consultation we also make sure to collect relevant information regarding an individual’s home and work environment to determine whether these may be possible factors that could further contribute to the condition or its underlying causes. We can then recommend treatment based on these findings.
We are here to help, and do our best to make sure our clients are always made to feel as comfortable as possible and safe in the awareness that they are not alone.
Read more about Alopecia and our treatment options here.