What is Alopecia? Find out more about the Types, Symptoms and Treatments

September is Alopecia Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, this post will provide helpful information and resources about the condition which is rarely discussed due to its sensitivity in nature of the symptoms.

What is Alopecia?
Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder. It directly affects the hair follicles on the skin’s surface. In result, you will begin to lose hair in circular patches sporadically on the scalp.
This condition affects an estimated 2% of Americans which equals 6.8 million people. It also does not discriminate and affects male and female counterparts as well as any age or race. Most people will experience symptoms of hair loss under the age of 30. Children are also impacted by the disorder.
The physical appearance of baldness can often be confused with someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and receiving chemotherapy treatments. However, alopecia is benign and not life-threatening.

Alopecia is known to be a genetic disorder. One out of five family members could be diagnosed with the condition who carry the gene. There are related autoimmune disorders such as thyroiditis and vitiligo which have genetic ties to the family history of alopecia.

Types of Alopecia
Alopecia Areata
The most common type is Alopecia Areata. When white cells begin to attack cells in the hair follicles, it causes inflammation and eventually causes hair loss. You will begin to randomly lose quarter size patches of hair anywhere located on the scalp area.
Alopecia Totalis
This type of alopecia is the complete loss of hair on the scalp. In this case, there may possibly be permanent hair loss.
Alopecia Universalis is the most severe condition. It is complete hair loss on the entire body. It affects all facial hair such as eyebrows, nose hair, scalp, legs, underarms and pubic area (wherever there is hair growth).
Alopecia Barbae is a very specific form of the condition where there’s facial hair loss such as a beard.
Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia is the most known form of hair loss however it is not considered a genetic disorder. The hair loss is caused by constantly pulling, tugging or parting hair in the same direction.
It is also caused from wearing tight hairstyles like braids, ponytails, buns, weaves or cornrows. By applying direct pressure, tension, and strain on the hair follicles, it will eventually cause hair breakage or complete hair loss over an extensive length of time.

What Causes Alopecia?
Alopecia is caused by the immune system attacking the body’s own cells. The white blood cells begin to attack foreign cells also known as invaders.
The common symptoms include severe itching and burning. The hair may begin to fall out in large clumps at a time. This is a very traumatic and emotional experience as one identifies with their physical appearance and can be devastating to their overall self-esteem.
There can also be a continuous cycle of hair loss and regrowth which can cause high levels of stress, frustration, and insecurities. You may also experience depression with emotional highs and lows due to the inconsistencies of the condition.
Alopecia can also affect the fingernails. You may notice the following:
  • Pinpoint dents
  • White spots or lines
  • Rough nails
  • Thin, splitting, weak fingernails
Test and Diagnosis
You will need to contact your primary doctor and dermatologist for a skin biopsy and blood test. They will also be able to exam your hair strands under a microscope to examine the bulb of the hair.

Due to the nature of the disorder, it is normally easier to diagnosis because of its common characteristics and symptoms.
Common Treatments
Unfortunately, there is no cure to prevent the hair loss from occurring. However, there are several methods of treatments that can be administered.

However, it is not guaranteed that these procedures will work. It is based on the biological makeup of an individual. You can learn more about additional approaches on treatments here.

You can discuss the best methods of treatments and any possible side effects with your doctor. Here is a list of known treatments available:

Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs which suppress the immune system.
Topical ointments
Minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) which helps with regrowth. However, it cannot prevent hair loss or bald spots.
Related Methods of Treatment
Acupuncture or aromatherapy may aid in reducing stress or depression.
Vitamins and supplements

Helpful Resources
Due to the psychological and emotional effects, it can have on your self-esteem, confidence and physical appearance, you may want to connect with others who are dealing with the same issue.
You can find additional support by joining the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). You can find out more here:  https://www.naaf.org/

Please feel free to leave your comments or questions below.
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Here are a few items that may be beneficial with coping with hair loss.

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