Alopecia: what are the causes, symptoms and treatments?

Alopecia: what are the causes, symptoms and treatments?
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Have you heard of alopecia or spot baldness?  This skin condition causes localised hair loss in circular or oval shaped forms.  However what are the causes, symptoms or available treatments for this condition?  

Causes of spot baldness

Alopecia is an auto-immune condition.  This means that person affected is being attacked by their own body, as if it is not their own.  When affected by alopecia you hair is destroyed by the body in patches.  However the capillary roots are never completely destroyed which means that hair regrowth is extremely common.  In fact in two out of three spot baldness cases the sufferers hair will grow back in five years.  However the regrowth delay is variable and sufferer’s experiences can be completely different. 

It is important to understand that the causes of alopecia are still not very well known. First episodes can start in childhood or at the end of your teenage years.  Nevertheless spot balding can appear at any point in your life.  Genetics is one of the accepted causes of this condition.  The genetic transmission from parent to child appears to be key in the development of this illness.  If your parents suffer then there is a strong likelihood that you too will be susceptible to this condition especially if you already have dermatological or auto-immune problems such as:

  • Eczema 
  • Asthma 
  • Psoriasis
  • Lupus
  • Secondary Syphilis 
  • Type 1 diabetes

Alopecia can, in very rare instances, be caused by taking some powerful medicines.  This happens in the same way that cancer treatments can cause spot balding.  This is linked to another controversial issue surrounding alopecia.  Many mental and physical health specialists think that stress, anxiety and psychological shocks can also bring about alopecia.  However these elements have not yet been definitively proven scientifically.

For children in particular it is important that you don’t confuse spot baldness with a case of ringworm.  In the case of alopecia, hair loss happens on a healthy area of the scalp however in the  case of ringworm there will be scabs of dead skin. This is because the hair is attacked by microscopic bacteria.

perte de cheveux
© iStock

The symptoms of alopecia

As mentioned earlier, spot balding develops on a healthy scalp.  In other words, the scalp will not have scabs, scratches or pustules. Hair loss appears on skin that is healthy and smooth without any signs of illness.
Spot balding like lots of auto-immune conditions evolves in phases.  The illness is characterised by phases of lair loss in different zones and phase of regrowth.  It is called spot balding when the hair has sparse areas on the skull which are randomly positioned.

There are different types of alopecia:

  • Ophiasis alopecia is a difficult form to treat.  It begins with hair loss around your neck and then around your ears
  • Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis:  This type of hair loss can effect all parts of the body including eyebrows and pubic hair.
  • Alopecia Areata:  It is the form commonly associated with the general term of alopecia.  It affects the whole scalp and results in patchy bald spots.

When you suffer from alopecia your hair tends to fall out in circular or oval forms.  This is why signs can also be confused with ringworm.

©️ wasansos1 / iStock

How can you treat this conditions?

In two third of cases the hair will naturally grow back about five years after the start of the condition.  It will grow back from the outside of the circular patch inwards.  After this time period the natural regrowth is very rare.  If this is the case you need to try other methods.
Usually alopecia treatments aim to speed up hair growth. Specialists can also prescribe corticoid  based treatments in a cream or gel form that you can apply locally.

Often it is more appropriate to avoid treatments as your hair will often grow back on it’s own accord. In addition, drugs do not always have a high success rate, and there aren’t as advantageous as you might think.  
The final solution is to wear a wig and to clean your hair with soft and organic hair products.

Final words

Even if this condition isn’t necessarily a disability in the common sense of this word, living through hair loss can be extremely difficult.  Often thought of as a sign of premature aging, it is easy to understand how alopecia cab lead to other psychological problems such as depression or anxiety.
The person suffering from this condition should always feel supported by their family as well as by health professionals.

Sources : Médecine Docs et Dermato-info

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