Alopecia Areata: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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By Dr. Jitesh Shetty, Dermatology

Alopecia Areata is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues within the body such as the hair follicles resulting in thinning hair and smooth random patches. It may even stop the hair from growing back. Even if hair starts coming back to the affected areas, it is likely to fall out again.

What causes Alopecia Areata?

There is still no specific cause that has been found other than this condition being hereditary. If an individual’s family member has suffered from this disease, then there is a high risk of them developing this too.

What are the symptoms of Alopecia Areata?

  1. The main symptom of alopecia areata is the development of small patches of hair loss.
  2. The individual may also suffer from itchiness and burning sensation in the affected area.
  3. Most people suffering from this disease have reported of a continuous cycle of hair loss and regrowth.

Alopecia Areata also affects fingernails and toenails. There are a number of changes that the nails go through:

  1. Nails become rough.
  2. Lines and white spots appear on the nails.
  3. Nails become thin and tend to split.
  4. Dents appear on the nails.

Other signs associated with the disease are:

  1. Few short hair going thin at the bottom, which grow in and around the bald edges.
  2. Growing of white hair in the affected area.
  3. Breakage of hair above the skin surface.

Can Alopecia Areata be cured?

There is no particular treatment for Alopecia Areata. However, treatments are carried out to reduce hair fall and regrowth of hair in the affected area. Some of the clinical treatments advised by doctors are:

  1. Corticosteroids – It is an anti-inflammatory drug which can be injected on the scalp or taken as oral pills or can be used as an ointment. One can see its results gradually.
  2. Topical contact allergens and sensitizers – This therapy is used when there is widespread hair loss or when the hair fall is recurring. It helps to promote hair growth.
  3. Rogaine (minoxidil) – This drug is used for the treatment of pattern baldness. However, the effectiveness of this drug is still questioned as it doesn’t help everyone with this condition.

People can also opt for alternative therapies to treat this condition. These include:

  1. Aromatherapy – This method uses various natural oils extracted from flowers, fruits and plants the aromas of which are then to be inhaled. Inhalation of the aroma is likely to enhance hair growth and stop hair fall.
  2. Acupuncture – Acupuncture can be used to treat this condition which involves insertion of needles at certain pressure points in our body to encourage better blood circulation and enable or boost the body’s self healing capabilities.
  3. Herbal supplements – Herbal supplements can also help in fighting hair loss and re-growth of hair.
  4. Vitamins – Vitamins like B – complex and E help in curing hair fall.

People suffering from Alopecia Areata should protect their hair to retain the quality of hair:

  1. Wear sunscreen before exposing yourself to the sun.
  2. Wear UV protected sunglasses to keep your eyelashes from pollution and germs.
  3. Wear hats, scarves, wigs to protect your head from the sun.

How to deal with Alopecia Areata?

Though this is not a serious health risk it may affect people psychologically and emotionally. People with Alopecia Areata may take counselling or contact psychologists to deal with the stress and anxiety caused due to the emotional stress. There are many self-help groups with whom the affected people may contact to share their feelings and learn how to deal with it.