Alopecia (Hair Loss)
- Signs and Symptoms
- Causes and Risk Factors
- Diagnosis and Testing
- Possible Complications
- Living with
Alopecia is a condition in which a person suffers with hair loss that occurs in round patches.
Over time, the patient may experience total hair loss. This condition can affect people of all ages, including men, women and children. There are treatment options that can be discussed with the doctor that may make alopecia a little bit easier to live with.
The only symptom is usually hair loss, but some people also report experiencing itching or a burning sensation. As someone starts to loose hair, they usually notice it occurring on the scalp first. The eyebrows, beard and other areas of the body may follow.
In the places where the hair loss occurs, the patches are usually round and smooth. The patient may notice a peach coloring in the areas. When complete loss of hair occurs, all of the hair is usually gone within about six months after symptoms begin.
The exact cause of alopecia is not known.
On average, about one in five people experience this condition due to having a family history of it. Some evidence suggests that the condition may be autoimmune, meaning that the hair loss is due to the over reaction of body’s own immune system attacking the hair follicles of the body.
The different forms of this condition include:
- Alopecia areata: Patchy hair loss of around the size of a coin. It usually happens in scalp, but can affect beard and eye brows. In majority of cases, the hair grows back in a few months time. Initially, the re-grown hairs are thin and white or light colour, gradually they acquire the normal colour of the person’s hair. Some patient develop a more severe type of alopecia in which complete loss of scalp hair or total body hair are loss.
- Alopecia universalis: Complete loss of body hair
- Alopecia totalis: Total loss of scalp hair
The doctor will perform a physical exam and get the personal and family history. They will look at how the nearby hairs look, the rate and pattern of the patient’s hair loss and any other symptoms patient may be experiencing. To rule out other causes of hair loss, the doctor may recommend some blood testing. This is to see if something like diabetes, thyroid disease or lupus could be responsible for the hair loss.
The doctor may recommend getting a sample of the hairs by pulling out a few dozen at one time. This can help to determine the stage of alopecia that the patient may have. The doctor may also gently scrape the skin to get a sample to test for possible infection. While not common, a punch biopsy may be done to look at the overall health of the skin. This involves getting a small piece of skin and sending it to a laboratory for analysis.
The doctor may recommend medications to try and encourage new hair growth. Minoxidil and Finasteride are the most commonly prescribed medications.
There are also surgical options, including hair transplants and scalp reduction. Both of these encourage natural regrowth of hair.
There are no complications directly associated with alopecia. Some people are self-conscious with their hair loss. Those who are self-conscious can consider hair regrowth treatments and other temporary remedies to help cover up the balding areas.
There are wigs and artificial hair pieces which can be used to cover up scalp balding. There are other lifestyle changes the patient can make to help promote healthy hair growth and to minimize the hair loss as much as possible. Doctors often recommend the following to patients with alopecia:
- Eat a healthy diet that is nutritionally balanced
- Avoid wearing right hairstyles, such as buns, tight ponytails or braids
- Do not compulsively rub, pull or twist hair
The doctor can provide other ways to help protect the hair after a thorough examination. It is important for the patient to do whatever is possible to promote overall health and care for the hair.