Alopecia is a condition where there is a loss of hair from the scalp. The loss of hair happens when the immune system of the body mistakenly starts attacking the hair follicle-the spot from where the hair grows. Hence Alopecia is also known as ‘Spot Baldness’. The loss may be in the form of round or oval patch or all over the scalp. In some cases the hair loss may affect the entire scalp and body and sometimes hair may ‘come’ and ‘go’.
In Alopecia Areata usually clumps of hair fall resulting in round smooth bald patches on the scalp. Most of the times the hair loss is not permanent as the follicle is not destroyed and hair may grow back in 6 months or a year. In some cases hair may become thinner without any visible bald patches on the scalp. Sometimes hair may fall and grow as ‘short’ hair, which stand out. And in some cases entire hair loss is experienced from the scalp and body. The hair which grows back is white and smooth.
Most of the times hair will grow back in some time, and only the texture of the hair will be fine and white in colour. Only about 10 % of people afflicted with this condition never grow back their hair. Hair loss is permanent only in some cases like due to heredity, Allergy, another Autoimmunity disorder, extensive hair loss, hair loss from an early age say, before 20.
Alopecia Areata is primarily diagnosed by physical examination. Medical history is also checked. The doctor may take a physical examination like pulling of hair strands and study the pattern of hair loss. If required the doctor may suggest further hair/scalp analysis and blood test for correct diagnosis.
Usually Alopecia is most commonly found in young people under the age of 20. Men and Women are equally affected. Genetic or heredity factors are one of the main causes. If one family member is affected, then it is most likely that some other member may inherit the same. Auto immune disease may be one of the underlying causes where the immune or the ‘defence’ system of the body attacks its own cells. People suffering from stress and certain allergies are likely to suffer extensive hair fall which results in baldness or Alopecia Areata.
If someone is suffering from Alopecia Areata, and fears the side effects of steroids it is best to avoid medication and wait for hair to grow back naturally or else they may take the help of:
Hair pieces/Wigs: Artificial or synthetic hair pieces are available in the markets which can be pulled over the scalp with the help of tape, pins etc.
Hair Weaving: Long strands of artificial hair is weaved on to existing hair and scalp to make it look fuller and longer but it may be harmful and cause further hair loss.
Cosmetic Solutions: Includes ‘Perming’ of hair which gives the hair a ‘full and voluminous’ look and the applying of colours and dyes on the scalp to hide the patches. But again excessive use of dyes and colours may cause harm.
Experts are continuously engaged in research to treat conditions like Alopecia which is an Auto-immune disorder, and managed to achieve success to some degree. The latest technique for treatment of Alopecia Areata which promotes hair growth is:
Psoralen with UltraViolet A light: This therapy is also known as ‘PUVA’. This therapy is generally used to treat people in whom Alopecia affects larger area of the scalp and who cannot use any other methods of treatment for some reason or the other.
In this therapy called PUVA a medicine called Psoralen is applied on the scalp which makes the skin more sensitive to A UltraViolet light. Then the skin is exposed to UltraViolet A light
Alopecia Areata is not a painful condition nor is it a serious threat but it can have a psychological effect to the extent that it causes depression in many and they avoid social interaction. Since Alopecia can affect very young children also, it is necessary that they take to counselling. There are medications as well as techniques to alter the condition. And it does not spread to your contacts, so go out, mingle and meet people.
An example of a famous person is that of ‘Christopher Reeve’ who suffered from Alopecia Areata at the young age of 16. He cleverly hid his bald patches by combing his hair over the bald spots. In his book ‘Nothing is Impossible’ it is mentioned that Reeve took steroid injections every 3 months to combat baldness during the filming of Superman!