What is Alopecia & Why Does it Cause Hair Loss?

Toppik on 9 January 2015

Alopecia Areate (AA) is a disease – thought to be an autoimmune disease – that causes hair loss in men, women and children. It is one of the most common reasons for hair loss, after male and female pattern baldness.

Alopecia affects people indiscriminately. People can develop Alopecia Areate at any age, without ever having had a history of it in their family. It can affect people for a short amount of time, or it can continue for a lifetime.

comb with hairsThe reasons behind the appearance of Alopecia are as of yet unknown, though it’s believed to be an autoimmune disease. Most hair loss experts and dermatologists believe that Alopecia is a result of the sufferer’s immune system developing abnormally, leading it to perceive hair follicles as constituting a threat to the rest of the body. As such, the immune system attacks the hair follicles and subsequently prevents hair growth.

The body parts affected by AA can be many and varied. While some sufferers will only experience hair loss confined to certain areas – say, one or two patches of the scalp – other sufferers with experience hair loss all over their bodies or in a combination of areas. Alopecia can affect the growth of hair on essentially any part of the body, such as eyebrows, eyelashes, public hair, the scalp, arms, legs and even just men’s beards.

Only about 30% of people with Alopecia Areate experience persistent or increased hair loss, or cycles of hair loss and regrowth throughout the course of their life. For the majority of sufferers, the disease will disappear after about one year.

Since AA doesn’t destroy the hair follicle completely, it is entirely likely that once the disease goes away, hair will grow back in the previously affected areas as naturally as it did before.

Around 2% of people – including both men and women – will develop non-hereditary Alopecia at some point during their lives. Factors that are believed (but not proven) to contribute to the onset of Alopecia include allergies, viruses, hormones or a number of these factors combined. Though a number of researchers hold these beliefs, there is as of yet no evidence to substantiate any claims of how or why it develops.

What Hair Loss Treatments are Available for Sufferers of Alopecia?

Alopecia is not a life-threatening disease. It does not need to be treated, but some people choose to do so for cosmetic reasons.

While there are a variety of hair loss treatments available on the market for sufferers of non-hereditary Alopecia, none of these have been proven universally effective. Some sufferers don’t respond to any of the existing remedies. Many treatments for Alopecia are still in their experimental stages, and most are accompanied by a list of unwanted side effects.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are the most commonly used treatments for Alopecia. They are available in a variety of forms, including:

  • Creams, gels or lotions daily applied to the affected area
  • Tablets
  • Local injections

Corticosteroids contain high levels of steroids, a potent form of hormones. The treatment works by suppressing the body’s naturally functioning immune system, which is thought to prevent it attacking hair follicles and to stimulate renewed hair growth. For those who experience any results at all, hair growth can usually be seen after about four weeks of continued use.

Usually, only individuals experiencing very mild symptoms of Alopecia respond to Corticosteroid treatment.

One of the disadvantages of topical Corticosteroids (those applied in the form of a cream, gel or lotion) is that they cannot be applied to affected facial areas. So, if you’re suffering from Alopecia Barbae (the form of AA that exclusively affects the beard area) then this is not a viable treatment option.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is sometimes used to treat Alopecia Areate, but only around half of those who choose this form of treatment will experience any sort of hair regrowth.

As part of immunotherapy, a chemical solution called diphencyprone (DPCP) is applied to a small area of bald skin. This is applied on a weekly basis, over the course of a number of months. The dosage of DPCP applied to the skin will gradually increase each session.

People undergoing immunotherapy as a treatment for Alopecia-related hair loss will need to protect the affected area for 24 hours after each application of DPCP. DPCP reacts negatively with sunlight and can negate the results of the treatment, so areas will need to be completely covered with hats, scarves and other clothing.

The most common side effects related to immunotherapy are severe skin reactions, such as rashes and patchy skin discolouration. Some of the other major disadvantages include the interruptions it can cause (travelling to specialist centres once a week over several months) and the fact that the hair will often fall out again once treatments are discontinued.

Hair Transplants

While hair transplants are most commonly used by those experiencing hair loss due to male or female pattern baldness, in some cases it may be a viable treatment for sufferers of Alopecia. However, before committing to a treatment as serious as this, it is recommended that you first try other less invasive treatments available on the market.

If you have been experiencing persistent Alopecia for a number of years and no other treatment has worked, then it may be worth looking into a hair transplant. However, considering it is the most invasive hair loss treatments available on the market, it is essential that you do your research. If you are interested, you can read more about hair transplants here.

Summary

While there are a number of hair loss treatments available on the market for those suffering Alopecia Areate, many of these treatments are still in their experimental phases. As of yet, no treatment has been discovered that is consistently effective.

While sufferers of Alopecia Areate do not have many promising treatments available to them, the good news is that in the majority of cases the disease will disappear naturally and the patient will experience renewed hair growth. Usually, this will happen after around a year.

No matter the reasons for the hair loss, most sufferers will experience some associated psychological consequences. These can include lack of confidence, reduced sexual drive, shyness, anxiety and even depression. For those experiencing Alopecia and associated psychological effects, a cosmetic treatment like keratin hair thickening fibres can be a good temporary solution to restore confidence for the duration of the disease.

If you are experiencing hair loss & want to talk to an expert, call Toppik on 1300 867 745 to discuss your possible treatment options.