Alopecia (loss of hair) is experienced by many people as they age. However, youngsters are prone to it as well. Perhaps the worst nightmare we get, and this is especially true for men as they are more affected by it than women, is going bald. We lose sleep as and when we see strands of hair on our comb, in the bathroom, on the pillow, etc
Alopecia, although not a serious condition, may in rare cases be a symptom of some other disorder like severe emotional stress and nutritional deficiencies.
What is Alopecia?
Alopecia means loss of hair. It can occur in patches, or can result in complete baldness. It can either be temporary or permanent. There are many causes for alopecia, as well as types of alopecia.
Types of Alopecia
There are 6 types of alopecia in all, and you can easily differentiate among these based on the spots where you’re losing hair. The types of alopecia include:
- Alopecia Areata: Hair loss occurs in patches on the scalp.
- Alopecia Totalis: Total baldness occurs on the scalp.
- Alopecia Universalis: Hair loss occurs over the entire body.
- Alopecia Barbae: Bald patches in beard start showing up.
- Androgenetic Alopecia: This is caused by excessive male hormones. This can occur in both men and women, although more prevalent in men. This is mostly a genetic condition.
- Traction Alopecia: This is caused by excessive stress on the hair follicles, commonly caused by constantly wearing tight pony tails or braids.
Phases of Hair Growth
Your hair goes through cycles of growth and rest. The growth phase, called anagen, generally lasts from 2 to 6 years. Then the hair goes through a rest period called telogen, which may last for a few months. During the telogen phase, strands of hair fall out and new ones start to grow to replace them. Most people lose about 50 to 100 strands of hairs per day, but with the normal density of hair on the head, this is hardly noticeable.
Causes of Alopecia
- Androgenetic Alopecia: This is caused by the hormone androgen. More prevalent in men, the hair follicles gradually weaken and eventually re-growth of hair stops, resulting in baldness. It is also called male pattern baldness. If it happens in women it is called female diffusion baldness. This is a genetic condition.
- Cicatricial (Scarring) Alopecia: Due to injury, certain skin conditions, and other causes, the hair follicles are scarred. New hair cannot grow because the follicles are damaged.
- Alopecia Areata: This is an autoimmune disorder. The body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles and destroys them. The cause for this condition is not known.
- Telogen Effluvium: This happens when something affects the normal hair-growth cycle. Physical or emotional trauma or stress can force the telogen phase to set in prematurely in the middle of the anagen or hair-growth phase. The affected hairs then fall out. This is mostly a temporary condition. In a few months, the hair starts to grow again.
- Traction Alopecia: Hair styles that put excessive stress on the hair follicles, like tight pony tails or braids, can cause hair loss.
Some other causes
- Nutritional defects: Deficiency of proteins or iron can cause alopecia in some.
- Medications: Certain drugs used to treat gout, arthritis, heart conditions, etc., could cause alopecia.
- Disease: Certain diseases like lupus, diabetes could lead to hair loss.
- Medical treatments: Treatments for cancer like chemotherapy and radiation therapy affect the anagen (growing) hairs and cause them to fall out.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause, or due to abnormal thyroid gland activity can cause hair loss.
- Hair treatment: Certain chemicals used in tinting, bleaching, straightening of hair, etc., can result in alopecia.
- Scalp infection: Some infections like ringworm can affect the scalp and cause hair to fall out.
- Trichotillomania: This is a mental disorder which causes the patient to have an irresistible desire to pull out hair, thereby causing alopecia.
Treatment measures for alopecia
There are several treatments for alopecia, with varying effects.
Treatment through medications
- Minoxidil (Rogaine): This over-the-counter drug is used to treat Androgenetic alopecia. It can be effective to an extent, slowing down hair loss and even stimulating new hair growth.
- Finasteride (Propecia): This prescription drug is used to treat male-pattern baldness. It works by stopping the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) which shrinks hair follicles. However, this is not approved for women. In fact, if pregnant women even handle crushed or broken Finasteride tablets, it may cause serious birth defects in male fetus.
- Corticosteroids: Injections of cortisone into the scalp can be effective in treating alopecia areata.
- Anthralin (Dritho-Scalp): In cream or ointment form, it is used to treat psoriasis, but it can also be used to treat alopecia areata. It may take several weeks for new hair to appear.
Treatment through surgery
- Hair transplant: Patches of skin containing hair follicles from the sides and back of head are extracted and grafted on to bald areas. As baldness progresses, more surgeries may be needed.
- Scalp reduction: The skin on the scalp can be flexible enough to allow bare patches to be removed and the space closed with skin that has hair.
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Surgical procedures for alopecia may be costly and painful. Other treatments include taking nutritional supplements if alopecia is caused due to nutritional deficiencies or using wigs and hair-pieces to cover the whole scalp or the bald patches.
Alopecia is more a cosmetic condition than a disease. It affects how a person looks, and in turn, how a person feels. Some people might just decide to let things be as they are, while others may want to cover their baldness. It relates more to how you feel about it.
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