Alopecia areata can be a confusing condition. Though there are a number of different types of hair loss that are classified under the broader umbrella of alopecia, alopecia areata refers specifically to an autoimmune disorder that causes a distinct pattern of balding. Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system mistakes healthy body tissues for outside intruders like bacteria, viruses, or toxins and then attacks those healthy cells, dispelling them in a misguided attempt to protect the body. In alopecia areata, the healthy tissues that are being attacked are hair follicles. Another way to think about it is similar to an allergy. While autoimmune responses and allergic responses are different (one responds to internal triggers while the other responds to external triggers), the principle is the same: the body is reacting to something normal as though it were a problem.
Why an immune system suddenly ceases to differentiate between a normal tissue and an abnormal one is unknown; however, genetic makeup can play a role in an individual’s susceptibility to an autoimmune disease and this is especially the case with alopecia areata. Sometimes multiple autoimmune disorders present themselves in the same individual, but aside from this, alopecia areata is not usually accompanied by any other illnesses. In fact, most people who are affected by alopecia areata are otherwise entirely healthy! The disorder affects both men and women and can be present from childhood through adulthood. Kayla Martell, guest speaker at our Women’s Hair Loss Seminar in March for example, began losing her hair when she was just 10 years old. In the United States, nearly 6.5 million people are dealing with alopecia areata. This number, though large, accounts for just 2% of the population, indicating that the condition is atypical and yet still impacts many millions of individuals in this country alone.
The onset of alopecia areata is typically characterized by sudden spots of baldness on the scalp. From there, prognosis and treatment vary widely by the affected individual. It is possible that the hair may eventually grow back in only to fall out again and it is also possible that more spots may appear until the baldness develops into full scalp baldness. When this occurs, the rare form of alopecia areata is then further labeled alopecia totalis. Even more rare is alopecia universalis, a form of alopecia areata in which all body hair, from eye brows to pubic hair, are lost.
Because alopecia areata can present itself in so many different and unpredictable ways, treatment options are dependent on the degree of hair loss, pattern of hair loss, age of patient, and needs or desires of each individual patient. In some cases, hair growth can be stimulated and maintained through ongoing treatments. For others, a quality wig allows them to move seamlessly through their daily life without any outsiders being able to tell that they are even wearing one. Understanding which options are available for a specific patient requires a personal and individualized consultation with an experienced professional hair restoration specialist. If you think you may be suffering from alopecia areata, contact your local specialist today to learn more about your choices for an informed and confident future.
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