Alopecia Areata: What is it and How Does it Cause Hair Loss?
Hair loss is a common condition affecting 39 percent of men across the UK.
The extent of shedding varies: some men lose all of their hair and others experience MPB (Male Pattern Baldness), which typically affects the top of the head only.
But numerous factors can cause hair loss, including stress.
One major type of stress-related condition is alopecia areata.
In this post, we’ll explore what this means, how it occurs, and what treatment options are available.
What is alopecia areata?
Alopecia areata causes patches of hair to fall out across the scalp, but it may not be noticeable in some cases — it all depends on the condition’s severity.
Visible hair loss occurs as a bare patch measuring approximately 2.5cm across, with a rounded shape.
This can occur quickly enough to transform the hair entirely within a few weeks.
The results may become much more noticeable when these small patches connect, expanding the area of baldness until much of the scalp is visible.
When alopecia areata leads to total hair loss (even the eyelashes and eyebrows), this is known as alopecia universalis — and hair may not grow back.
Obviously, alopecia areata can be difficult to cope with, especially for men already experiencing extreme stress.
Impending baldness is likely to only exacerbate their problems and increase their stress levels.
What causes alopecia areata?
Alopecia areata is triggered by the immune system attacking the hair follicles, treating them as foreign invaders rather than a natural element of the body.
While the white blood cells responsible typically help to defend against disease and illness, in this case, they mistakenly disrupt a key bodily function.
Certain people are more at risk of developing alopecia areata, including those who:
- Have a family history of the condition and/or other types of autoimmune disease
- Have several of the susceptibility genes
- Have higher levels of thyroid disease, atopic eczema, or vitiligo
- Have chromosomal disorders (e.g. Down syndrome)
- Have been prescribed biological medications for conditions such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis
Anyone who meets any of these criteria and is experiencing high levels of stress will be at risk of developing alopecia areata.
But stress isn’t the only trigger: viral infections, hormonal fluctuations, and extreme trauma may also be to blame.
How long does alopecia areata last?
For some people affected by alopecia areata, the results may last for the rest of their lives.
It might not be characterised by constant hair loss, but could fade and return numerous times.
However, other people can experience alopecia areata just once, on a temporary basis.
The condition’s severity and frequency vary from one case to another, but permanent alopecia areata is fairly uncommon.
Generally, hair lost through alopecia areata should start to grow back within one year, even in extreme cases.
What treatments are available for alopecia areata?
Certain treatments may be recommended to address alopecia areata, encompassing topical and systemic solutions.
For example, minoxidil is a common option, though it can be ineffective against extreme forms of alopecia areata.
However, as regrowth may occur spontaneously after symptoms ease, treatment might be considered unnecessary.
Sadly, in-depth research into alopecia areata treatments is fairly thin on the ground, particularly when compared to the amount of resources focused on other types of hair loss.
In some cases, topical hair treatments may struggle to stimulate significant regrowth.
Corticosteroids could be prescribed as a systemic solution as a final resort, though they should be used with care — they can trigger some challenging side effects (weight gain, hypertension, diabetes).
Oral immunosuppressants, such as cyclosporine, could also be recommended by a doctor.
It’s crucial to be aware of the potential difficulties that could arise when taking any new medication, whether it’s topical or systemic.
If hair fails to grow back after alopecia areata, a hair transplant may be a viable option.
But the extent of hair loss and the condition’s severity must be evaluated thoroughly to ensure the procedure has a chance of succeeding.
For example, if one or two patches of baldness have stayed the same for a number of years, a transplant might be effective.
HairPalace’s hair transplant surgeons use cutting-edge FUE technology to restore more youthful, healthy growth.