What is Alopecia?

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that is fairly common. It causes small patches of hair to fall out randomly. Typically, hair loss is experienced is on the scalp but it has been known to occur on other parts of the body. The true cause of alopecia is unknown but there does seem to be a genetic factor in developing this autoimmune disease. Currently, there is no cure for this disorder, but certain medications can assist in the hair growing back faster. It may also help prevent patches of hair from falling out in the future.

Alopecia results when the immune system begins attacking the hair follicles. Even though the hair may fall out in patches, it is rare for total hair loss to occur, however it can keep the hair from growing back because it kills the hair follicle.

What are the Symptoms of Alopecia?

The symptoms of alopecia are pretty straight forward, but they can vary depending on the type of alopecia is present.

Symptoms include

  • Alopecia areata is characterized by patches of hair falling out in round, small patches in the area of the scalp. The patches are usually marked in several centimeters or smaller.
  • The hair loss in any type of alopecia can also occur in other parts of the body.
  • Usually the first symptoms are small clumps of hair that are found on your pillow or come out in the shower.
  • Alopecia tatalis can cause hair loss over the entire scalp.
  • Alopecia universalis can cause hair loss over the entire body.

Alopecia Causes

Alopecia areata is the most common type of hair loss. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. In the case of hair loss, the immune system attacks its own hair follicles, in which growth of hair begins. Clumps of hair usually fall out, leaving round patches of scalp. Sometimes the hair simply thins, or it can grow and then break off, leaving stubs of hair. The hair usually grows back within months and is the same color. Sometimes it’s white.

Medical experts have found a few things that could possibly cause the condition:

  • If the person has another autoimmune problem such as a thyroid problem
  • Suffer allergies or asthma
  • Someone in the family has hair loss
  • Already have serious hair loss
  • Have family members with asthma or allergies
  • Severe illness or emotional upheaval
  • Aging and/or menopause
  • Health conditions like an iron deficiency.

How is Alopecia Treated?

Not all treatments work for everyone. Depending on age and hair loss there are many types of treatment.

Treatment includes

Treatment for all types of alopecia involve medications to help regrow hair that has fallen out. Other common treatments include injections of steroids, ointments, or corticosteroid ointments and creams that will help contain the immune system response in attacking the hair follicles.

Another way of treating alopecia is using photochemotherapy as a way to fight off the immune system. A combination of oral radiation therapy and ultraviolet life therapy could help to fight against the overreaction of the immune system.

Alternative therapy treatments include

  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal supplements
  • Vitamins

Alternative therapies have not undergone clinical trials. This means that while they may be beneficial to treatment, they should not be relied on the same as a standard medical treatment.

Alopecia Prevention

Although there is little that can be done to prevent hair loss, the ultimate goal is to regrow it. Some attention must be paid to its underlying causes; boosting the immune system so it doesn’t attack its own body would prove useful. Vitamin B and iron would be a good idea as well as stress mediation to help with emotional trauma. Treating allergies and asthma would help as well.

There are chemicals available to help regrow hair, such as minoxidil. Corticosteroids are sometimes injected into the scalp, but the pill form causes side effects over a period of time and is not a good idea for some hair loss sufferers. Surgery is also an option, but hair loss sufferers should know that if hair loss happens after a transplant, there might not be enough new hairs to compensate or grow back.

Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
March 29, 2018