Alopecia Areata is a common autoimmune disease that presents as a recurring patchy type of balding, caused by an abnormal autoimmune response triggering an attack on the patient’s hair follicles, causing hair loss. It can occur at any age and affects approximately 2% of the population, most commonly children. This translates to over 4.5 million people in the United States.
The reasons for its development are not fully understood. Although alopecia is not life threatening, this type of balding can be psychologically traumatic at any age, but it is particularly devastating when it occurs in children.
In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles are mistakenly attacked in groups by a person’s own immune system (white blood cells), resulting in the arrest of the hair growth stage. These affected follicles become very small, drastically slow down production, and grow no hair visible above the surface for months or years. The scalp is the most commonly affected area, but the beard or any hair-bearing site can be affected alone or together with the scalp. Alopecia Areata:
Alopecia Areata Causes, Symptoms, Hair Replacement Options
Alopecia Areata is a recurring patchy type of hair loss. It can occur at any age and affects 1% of the population, most commonly children. The reasons for its development are not fully understood. Although it isnot life threatening, the hair loss can be psychologically traumatic.
Most scientists believe Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease where white blood cells from the immune system mistakenly attack hair follicles and keep them from producing hairs.
Alopecia Areata is unpredictable, and repeated episodes are not unusual. Some cases last many years with some regrowth in one area, while at the same time new areas appearing. AA may also cycle through expression and remission. When hair does start to regrow, it tends to be of very fine “peach fuzz” hair, eventually regaining most or all of its normal color and texture.
While some researchers have considered stress as a factor in the development of the disease, the exact role of stressful events remains unclear. The general consensus among published articles on the subject suggest that stress most likely triggers a condition already present in susceptible individuals, rather than acting as the true primary cause.
There is neither a cure for the disease nor drugs approved for its treatment. In general, treatments are much less effective for extensive alopecia areata (particularly alopecia totalis/alopecia universalis).
Who is Most Likely to Get This Form of Alopecia?
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation reports that disease affects an estimated four million Americans, both men and women, of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It often begins in childhood.
If you have a close family member with the disease, your risk of developing it is slightly increased. If your family member lost his or her first patch of hair before age 30, the risk to other family members is greater.
Will My Hair Ever Grow Back?
There is every chance that your hair will regrow, but it may also fall out again. No one can predict when it might regrow or fall out. The course the disease can take varies from person to person. For some individuals, the initial hair regrowth is white, with a gradual return of the original hair color. In most, the regrown hair is ultimately the same color and texture as the original hair.
Alopecia Areata: Progression of Disease
The course of the disease is highly unpredictable, and the uncertainty of what will happen next is probably the most difficult and frustrating aspect of the disease. You may continue to lose hair, or your hair loss may stop. The hair you have lost may or may not grow back, and you may or may not continue to develop new bare patches.
How Can I Cope With the Effects of Alopecia Areata?
This is a common question, particularly for children, teens, and young adults. Living with hair loss can be hard, especially in a culture that views hair as a sign of youth and good health. Even so, most people with this form of alopecia are well-adjusted, contented people living full lives. The emotional aspects of living with hair loss, however, can be challenging.
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.