Hair loss in men and women can be caused by a myriad of factors ranging from family history to hormone imbalance to life-changing events. While it can be a permanent state for some individuals, there are also temporary causes that can be corrected or expected to self-correct over time. One of these temporary diagnoses would be alopecia areata.
What Exactly Is Alopecia Areata?
So what is alopecia areata? Also known as AA or “patchy hair loss,” alopecia areata is sudden hair loss that creates one or more bald patches on the scalp that may overlap. Diagnosed in approximately 200,000 cases annually, alopecia areata develops when the immune system attacks the hair follicles – something that can be triggered by severe stress. Symptoms of alopecia areata include: thinning hair, hair loss, anxiety, itching, and small dents in finger and toe nails – similar in appearance to small pin pricks across the nail. Additionally, while alopecia areata can affect all ages, it is most common in men and women under the age of twenty. While there is no specific cure, follicle damage is usually not permanent and there are treatments that can help stimulate hair re-growth.
Even without treatment, though, hair should begin re-growing within a few months of the original diagnosis. In some cases, the hair that grows back may be fine, white hair rather than the original color, but the follicles become active again. Additionally, about 10% of patients never regrow hair, but that is more likely if there is a family history, if the diagnosis is made prior to puberty, if the patient is prone to allergies, or if extensive hair loss is seen around the body.
There are a handful of treatment methods that can be used to spur along hair regrowth. With regard to medical treatments, steroids such as Prednisolone, Triamcinolone, and Fluocinonide may be applied as a topical scalp medication to reduce inflammation and aid in tissue growth and repair. A vasodilator such as Minoxidil may also be prescribed to widen blood vessels while an anti-inflammatory drug, like Anthralin, helps to prevent swelling. Finally, immunosuppressive drugs, such as Tacrolimus, may be prescribed to reduce the human response. Additionally, after consultation with a primary care physician or dermatologist, self-care treatments may be utilized to help stimulate growth. These include PUVA therapy – exposing the skin to UV light – and employing stress management practices to minimize severe stress levels in the body.