Alopecia causes and treatment

Published 12:36 pm Monday, November 7, 2022

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A friend of mine recently asked me what I know about alopecia and asked if I’d mind doing some research and writing an article about it. I’m happy to write about issues that are important to my readers. The following article is what I learned about alopecia while researching the topic.


Alopecia, also known as alopecia areata, is a chronic skin disease that happens when the immune system attacks the body’s hair follicles causing hair loss. It’s usually noticed by a sudden loss of hair on the scalp, beard, and sometimes eyebrows, eyelashes, and body hair. It can also be described as bald spots or bald patches. One of the strange aspects of this disease is that the patchy hair loss is very unpredictable. The hair growth can return to normal at any time, and then suddenly fall out again. The affected areas show no signs of inflammation or other reasons for the hair falling out, which makes it a frustrating experience to deal with as there are treatments but no cure. 

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Alopecia affects men, women, and ethnic groups equally, but it occurs most often in younger people in their teens to age thirty, although onset can begin at any age. People with certain autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis, thyroid disease, or vitiligo, are more likely than the general population to get alopecia areata, as are those with allergic conditions such as hay fever. Even emotional stress or an illness has been known to trigger the disease.


There is some good news. The hair tends to regrow on its own more fully in people with less extensive hair loss, later age of onset, no changes to fingernails such as ridges or puts, and no family history of the disease.


Symptoms typically begin with sudden loss of round or oval patches of hair on the scalp. There are other possible causes such as improper washing, drying, and combing, physical stresses like a high fever, surgery, a major illness, sudden weight loss, or pregnancy, certain hairstyles such as a ponytail, cornrows, or braids; even some hair care products may trigger some hair loss. Dieting and poor nutrition, declining estrogen levels, some cancer treatments, and of course family genetics. 


Treatments include the use of prescribed topical steroids that should be continued for at least three to six months to stimulate hair growth. Another option includes steroid injections into the top layer of the scalp, but both are recommended for slowly occurring alopecia areata and not the other more aggressive type of the disease.


Minoxidil, known as Rogaine and other topical scalp treatments are available, and it may take about 8-weeks for any new hair growth to appear. Once successful regrowth of hair begins, the use of these medicines must be maintained, or the hair loss will reoccur. As with all medicines, there may be unwanted side effects that may vary from user to user.


The truth is that there is no cure for alopecia, and the available treatments are mostly ineffective or have a very low response rate. The goal of most treatments is either to block the immune response or stimulate hair growth. Even with treatment, the hair may fall out again when the treatment is stopped.


If you have a particular topic that you’d like me to research for a future article, please email me. While I can’t promise that I can fulfill every request, I’ll do my best to keep things interesting for everyone.


Ron Kauffman is a Consultant & Expert Speaker on Issues of Aging.You may contact him by phone at (828) 696-9799 or by email at: