Although alopecia areata is a common disease, many of us know very little about it. It is characterized by the loss of hair on the scalp and other parts of the body. Not discriminating, it occurs in men, women and children of all ages with the onset most often occurring in childhood.
Sometimes there are only a few bare patches that develop and then hair is regrown within a year. In other cases, all scalp hair is lost (alopecia totalis) or all scalp and body hair is lost (alopecia universalis). In any case, the hair follicles remain alive and will resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal. Sufferers lead a life on an emotional roller coaster. There is always hope because regrowth may occur even without treatment and even after many years. There is the feeling of a lack of control because the hair may also fall out again at any time.
Added to this are the misconceptions about the illness. Acquaintances often assume the alopecia sufferer has cancer and is very ill, perhaps not physically capable of responsibility at work. In reality, most victims report feeling in good health.
According to current research, when alopecia areata strikes, something triggers the immune system to suppress hair growth. It is not known whether this trigger comes from outside the body, like a virus, or from the inside. The affected hair follicles become very small and slow down production drastically. No hair grows above the surface for months or years. Once diagnosed, the alopecian will have absolutely no idea of how the disease will progress, only that they will have to deal with it for the rest of their life.
Although the most commonly affected area is the scalp, any area hair grows may be affected.
At this time, there is no cure for alopecia areata, although the hair may return of it’s own accord. There are various treatments that are very effective in milder cases. These treatments do not stop the alopecia areata. They stimulate the follicle to produce hair again. The treatments need to be continued until the disease turns itself off.
Less Than 50% Scalp Hair Loss
Cortisone injections are used in and around the bare patches. There is little discomfort and the injections must be repeated once a month.
Topical minoxidil. A five percent topical minoxidil solution as in Rogain Extra Strength is applied twice daily. If the scalp hair regrows completely, the treatment can be stopped. This is not effective in treating 100% scalp hair loss.
Anthralin cream or ointment is a synthetic, tar-like substance, used in the treatment of psoriasis. It is applied to the bare spots once a day and washed off after thirty to sixty minutes. If growth occurs, it will be seen in eight to twelve weeks.
Over 50% Scalp Hair Loss
Cortisone pills are sometimes used for extensive scalp hair loss. Possible side effects should be discussed with your doctor and there are health risks from prolonged use. Hair that is regrown is likely to fall out when the use of cortisone pills is discontinued.
Topical minoxidil is used in the same manner as with less than 50% hair loss.
Topical immunotherapy is a treatment used frequently in Canada and Europe but is not available everywhere in the United States. It involves producing an allergic rash or allergic contact dermatitis. Chemicals are applied to produce an allergic rash resembling poison oak or poison ivy. Approximately forty percent of those treated with topical immunotherapy will regrow scalp hair after about six months. The treatment must be continued to maintain the regrowth.
The emotional pain of alopecia areata can be overcome with knowing the medical facts and the support of others. Internet support groups offer the opportunity to receive emotional support and develop close friendships with others in similar circumstances from all over the world.
There are organizations, such as the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, and The American Hair Loss Council that provide support for research into the disease and emotional support through personal contact and the sponsoring of support groups.