Alopecia Areata: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options
One of the common causes of hair loss in men and women is Alopecia Areata. This is a condition that results in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere, It usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth patches. It occurs in both males and females of all ages, but young persons are affected most often.
In Alpecia areata, the affected hair follicles slow down production drastically, above the surface for months or years. While they are in this hibernation like state, the hair follicles remain alive below the surface and are ready to resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal.
Some people develop only a few bare patches and regrow them within a year, even with out treatment.
The scalp is the commonest affected area, but the beard in men, or any hair bearing site can be affected alone or together with the scalp hair loss. In some persons, the condition spreads until all hair on the scalp is lost, this is called Alopecia Totalis. In some cases all hair on the entire body is lost, this is called Alopecia Universalis. No matter how spread the hair loss is , the hair follicles remain alive below the skin surface, and the possibility of hair growth remains.
In any Alopecia Areata condition the evidence is mounting that an immunological signal is involved. Modern immunological research is showing that Alopecia Areata is probably an autoimmune disorder, one in which the body mistakenly forms antibodies against some part of the hair follicle. In those with Alpecia Areata, antibodies directed against the other normal parts of the body are sometimes present, even though there is no disease or disability associated with these other antibodies.
There are several treatment options available. The choice of treatment depends on age, and the extent of hair loss. Current treatments do not turn Alopecia Areata off, but rather they cause the sluggish follicle to produce normal hair again. For mild conditions, commonest treatment is the injection of cortisone into the bare patches. These treatments need to be continued until the condition turns it self off, which may take months to years. . For more extensive Alopecia, the treatment is more difficult. There is not simple and sure solution, and for this reason an attractive wig may be the best alternative.
Current treatments for Alopecia Areata all help to regulate in some way the body's altered immune response which has turned off hair production in the follicles. In many centers at present there is extensive research focusing on the immunologic changes in different forms of Alopecia Areata. As a result of this research, we are finding new drugs to modulate or regulate the immune response. All of these investigative efforts will in the future lead to better treatments for all forms of Alopecia Areata.