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Alopecia Areata - Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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Alopecia areata is a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. Alopecia areata may occur in more than one member of the family, and such families may develop other autoimmune diseases such as pernicious anaemia and vitiligo. It is also more common in patients with chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome. In alopecia areata, immune system cells called white blood cells attack the rapidly growing cells in the hair follicles that make the hair. It can occur at any age and affects 1% of the population, most commonly children. The affected hair follicles become small and drastically slow down hair production. Alopecia areata affects an estimated four million Americans of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. It often begins in childhood. Alopecia areata is not contagious and is not caused by any food. Like many other health problems, it sometimes starts after a stressful event, but this is not usually the case.

Alopecia areata is actually a disease of the immune system and is commonly referred to as an autoimmune syndrome. Alopecia areata does not result in physical disability, but it can be emotionally very distressing. Alopecia areata appears to also have an autoimmune factor causing the patient to develop antibodies to different hair follicle structures. Certain chemicals that are a part of the immune system called cytokines may play a role in alopecia areata by inhibiting hair follicle growth. People who have alopecia areata do not usually have other autoimmune diseases, but they do have a higher occurrence of thyroid disease, atopic eczema, nasal allergies, and asthma. Alopecia areata is often discovered by a hairdresser, as there are usually no symptoms. The hair stops growing and then falls out from the roots. Alopecia areata is not a life-threatening disease. It does not cause any physical pain, and people with the condition are generally healthy otherwise.

Causes of Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly treats its hair follicles as foreign tissue and suppresses or stops hair growth. There are several different hypotheses as to what causes alopecia areata. Genetic factors seem to play an important role since there is a higher frequency of a family history of alopecia areata in people who are affected. As with most autoimmune diseases, Alopecia areata is associated with increased risk of developing other autoimmune diseases, specifically systemic lupus erythematosus. Certain chemicals that are a part of the immune system called cytokines may play a role in alopecia areata by inhibiting hair follicle growth.

Common causes and risk factors of Alopecia areata:

  • Smotional stress.
  • A family history of alopecia areata.
  • Certain chemicals.
  • Chromosomal disorders such as down syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia areata

The primary symptom of alopecia areata is round bald patches on the head. Initial presentation most commonly occurs in the late teenage years and young children, but can happen with people of all ages. There may be different skin areas with hair loss and regrowth in the same body at the same time. Any hair-bearing area can be affected, including eyebrows, eyelashes, beard and body areas. Occasionally, there is mild itching, tingling, tenderness or a burning sensation in the affected area. Some people with alopecia areata also have abnormalities in the surface of their fingernails.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • An abnormal area of redness.
  • Small round or oval patches of baldness on the scalp.
  • Mild itching.
  • Tenderness or a burning sensation in the affected area.
  • Tiny pits or dents.

Treatment for Alopecia areata

There are several different treatment options for alopecia areata. The most common is observation. Another option is applying a strong topical steroid such as Diprolene or Temovate to the patch. It may take several months for the hair to grow back using this method. Some lotions applied to the scalp do seem to result in temporary improvement in some people, but the hair falls out again as soon as they are stopped. Medicines which are often tried include topical steroids and minoxidil, and irritants such as dithranol. Injections of steroid into the bald patches of the scalp suppresses the local immune reaction that occurs in alopecia areata. This can then allow the hair follicles to function normally again and for hair to re-grow. This treatment may be an option for one or more small to medium sized bald patches.

Treatment may include:

  • Many people have achieved success with treatments such as Thymusil, an all-natural alopecia solution.
  • Immunotherapy using chemicals such as diphenylcyclopropenone or squaric acid dibutyl ester on the scalp that can produce an allergic reaction, which may neutralize the turned-on immune cells.
  • Cortisone creams are also sometimes beneficial in the treatment of alopecia areata.
  • Minoxidil has been used to promote hair growth.
  • Steroid pills, or a special form of ultraviolet light treatment, are sometimes worthwhile, but may result in side effects.