Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease which leads to hair loss from a particular area or sometimes the entire body. Autoimmune disease is when the body fails to recognize its own body cells and begin damaging the healthy cells. Also known as spot baldness, this autoimmune disease usually occurs in the scalp leading to loss of hair follicles. Hair follicles are responsible for growth of hair. Alopecia areata is of two types – scarring alopecia and non-scarring alopecia.
Scarring Alopecia areata causes fibrosis, inflammation and loss of hair follicles. Non-scarring alopecia is a reversible disease wherein the hair shafts are gone but the hair follicles are preserved. The reason behind the disease is unknown. Alopecia areata is most common in people younger than 20, however, children and adults can also be affected at any age.
Alopecia areata begins when a bunch of hair start falling, causing a particular region on the scalp or body go completely bald. Sometimes the region does not go bald; rather the hair thickness starts reducing and eventually breaks. Apart from the hair, finger and toe nails are also affected. They appear as if a pin had made numerous dents on the nails. Alopecia can be treated but cannot be completely cured. People with one or more of the below conditions are more likely to have permanent hair loss:
- Family history of the condition
- Have any other autoimmune disease
- Have the condition at younger age or for more than 1 year
Most of the time physical examination helps to diagnose the condition. However, if the reasons for hair loss are unclear then doctors suggest tests such as blood test for diagnosis of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, or hair analysis wherein a small strand of hair is examined under the microscope.
Hair lost due to alopecia areata grows back within a year. Therefore many patients decide not to opt for any kind of treatment. In this case, people can use hairpieces that are made up of human hair or synthetic hair. They can also use hair styling or hair care products which make hair look thicker. Dyes can also be used to colour scalp; however, it can lead to more hair loss.
For people who wish to opt for treatment, there are several options available. The most common treatment for spot baldness is applying numerous injections of corticosteroids into the scalp or skin 1 cm apart every 4 to 6 weeks. Contact immunotherapy trigger is a type of allergic reaction that helps hair to grow. The medicine is applied on the scalp once in a week. This irritates the skin and causes redness. Hair starts growing within 3 months of the starting the treatment. This treatment has some side effects such as rashes and swollen lymph nodes in the neck region.
Although alopecia areata does not cause any pain or discomfort, or does not have any serious health related problems, people start feeling unattractive and lose confidence. Talking to people with the same condition or speaking to a counsellor can help.