Alopecia areata is a condition distressing humans, in which hair is lost from several or all areas of the body, usually from the scalp. Because it origin bald spots on the scalp, especially in the first stages, it is sometimes called spot baldness
Alopecia areata is a malfunction of the immune system whereby the body begins to attack its own hair follicle. However it is very selective in which areas it attacks, so that circular / oval shaped bald patches develop. These are silky smooth to the touch, because all hair including vellus hair (soft downy hair) has been lost. Currently there is no medical explanation as to why the patches are selected in the manner in which they are. Accordingly there is no test that can be done to determine if the patches will stay contained in the given area or spread to another area.
What causes and origin alopecia areata? Less than 1% of the population suffers with alopecia areata with both males and females being affected. Children as well as adults suffer from the condition. There is a genetic link. Families that develop atopic allergies like asthma, psoriasis and eczema tend to have a greater incidence of alopecia areata. This would imply an inherited over-sensitive immune reaction. If you have an inherited tendency towards this disease, stress can cause the condition to start.
How do you confirm that you have alopecia areata? Due to the fact that the areas under immune attack are localized, it is not possible to confirm a diagnosis by blood tests. It follows that a punch biopsy (removing a section of the bald spot) is the only logical way to confirm an immune attack in such a localized area. However for most people this would be too invasive, so it tends to be diagnosed by the pattern of loss alone.
What treatments are available? At the initial onset it is common to see a spontaneous regrowth with no treatment. However it is common for it to spread rapidly and can result in total scalp hair loss. At this stage it is known as Alopecia Totalis. Further progression sees it spreading to the eyebrows and eyelashes and eventually affecting all body, scalp and facial hair. At this latter stage it is termed Alopecia Universalis and it is uncommon to see a spontaneous remission at such an advanced stage. As this disease has such an uncertain outcome it can have a big psychological effect. Doctors saying "do not worry it will probably grow back on its own", whilst it may have a high probability of being statistically correct, does very little to alleviate very real fear the patient has. That fear is based on the knowledge that it is also statistically correct that a lower percentage of sufferers will see it progress.
Most people fear that they will be the unlucky ones! Medical treatments are limited: With less than one percent of the population troubled by this problem, it is difficult from an investment standpoint to make a return on any investment into research work into a cure. However a pure investment returns approach sadly misses the fact that the disease is extremely upsetting to the sufferer. In western cultures it is common to see men lose their hair to alopecia androgenetica (male pattern baldness) so it is more socially acceptable to see a bald man. However that does not make the situation any easier for men. However women and children with hair loss are less common and attract much more unwanted stares and attention. Teasing at school can be very cruel as children tend to find patches of hair loss amusing.
Treatment types these tend to fall into broad categories: Immune suppression like steroid creams or injections Irritants like diphenylcyclopropenone. Holistic approaches Natural products like plant extracts and supplementation.
In many cases when a parent first approaches their doctor about alopecia areata, the doctor will refer the patient along to dermatologists. The very delay between seeing the doctor and dermatologist can be extremely stressful as the problem will usually be getting worse. Therefore many people seek alternative treatments via the web solely because they feel they at least they are being proactive and doing something that may benefit them.
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