Frequently Asked Questions about Alopecia
Alopecia is what medical professionals call baldness.
This means unfortunately, that knowing you’re suffering from “alopecia” doesn’t specify exactly what the problem is.
In fact there are several different types of alopecia, including:
- Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. It results in patchy hair loss, and is usually what people mean when they say they have alopecia.
- Alopecia totalis results in the loss of hair all over the scalp. It’s much less common.
- Alopecia universalis means hair loss all over the body, and affects an even smaller percentage of people.
But the specifics of the disease and what causes alopecia vary from person to person.
Some may experience hair loss on the scalp alone with the skin otherwise appearing healthy, others may notice hair loss on other parts of the body with accompanying mild redness or soreness.
It all depends on the severity and type of the disease.
You say it’s a disease… so is alopecia contagious?
In humans, alopecia is not contagious.
The only exception is in the relatively unlikely event that your alopecia is caused by a certain species of ringworm that effects the scalp.
Otherwise, no. Alopecia cannot be transmitted.
What are the symptoms of alopecia areata?
The most obvious symptom of alopecia areata is hair loss.
The specific way in which the hair falls out is often indicative of the disease – remember that not all balding is related to alopecia areata.
When someone is suffering from alopecia areata, hair loss usually occurs in little patches approximately the size of a two pence coin, or possibly smaller. Because the patches are so small, the first sign might be hair on your pillow or on your towel when drying yourself after a bath or shower.
In some cases, the hair loss may not be confined to the scalp. Any areas of the body that grow hair may be affected. This tends to occur rarely, usually in less than 5% of cases.
Hair loss on the head, face, or other parts of the body may be cyclical – i.e. hair may grow back in these areas before falling out again.
Nail problems can often be the first sign that someone has alopecia areata. Nails of people with the disease frequently become pitted – you’ll notice little dents and scratches – as well as being thinner and less shiny.
In certain unusual cases nails can become misshapen or even fall off entirely.
Nails are affected in perhaps 10% of cases.
These aren’t symptoms of alopecia that are universal. In many cases the skin where the hair used to be will seem to be perfectly healthy.
Some people though may experience mild itchiness or burning, redness, or even scaling on the affected areas.
Why does this happen?
An autoimmune disease is an illness in which a person’s immune system becomes convinced that part of their own body is an enemy that needs to be fought. In this case, it’s the hair follicles that are being nuked.
Hair follicles are the part of the hair at the base that links it to the scalp.
What causes Alopecia?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of alopecia areata isn’t known.
It is however known to occur most often in individuals who have a family history of other autoimmune disorders.
Examples of these would be thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, or Type 1 Diabetes.
It’s also unknown why it affects only parts of the scalp or hair-producing areas and not others.
And why the bald patches progress in different ways for different people.
Some individuals may see smaller bald patches join together to create larger patches.
Others may see a cycle of some areas re-growing hair while different parts of the scalp start to lose hair…
So is there a cure for hair loss caused by alopecia areata?
The prognosis for sufferers of alopecia areata will depend on the severity of the disease and symptoms.
Some mild cases may go away without the need for any treatment.
There are many good tips for preventing hair loss, and in some cases improvements to diet and general health may stimulate recovery.
For more severe cases, there’s no fixed timetable for recovery – or, sadly, guarantee that complete recovery from all alopecia symptoms is possible.
The amount of time that the bald patches last will vary, and can persist for a period of anything up to several years.
If the hair loss is severe, with more than half the scalp being affected, then it’s far less likely that hair will re-grow.
But if you’re in this position there is one positive note. Hair replacement technology and hair loss alternatives have a come a long way from the good old toupee. There’s also a lot of support groups out there for sufferers.
You are not alone!