Alopecia is a condition which is often misunderstood. To help spread awareness the Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation hold Aleopecia Awareness Week from the 12th – 19th of November, 2017.

What is Alopecia?

Alopecia is an auto-immune disease which causes hair loss on the scalp and other areas of the body. It is not fully understood why, but the body mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. This results in damage to the follicle and hair loss, ranging from┬ásmall patches to total loss of hair on the entire body. This includes the sub-type alopecia barbae which causes patchy hair loss in some men’s beards.

It typically begins with clumps of hair falling out, leaving a smooth, round hairless patch on the scalp or other areas of the body. Hair may also become thinner without noticeable balding or patches, or grow and break off. In rare cases total loss of hair on the scalp and entire body may occur.

There are a number of different types of Alopecia, including:

  1. Alipacia Areata (AA): Auto-immune condition causing patchy hair loss.
  2. Alopacia Totalis (AT): More advanced resulting in total scalp hair loss.
  3. Alopacia Universalis (AU): Most advanced form resulting in total hair loss of scalp and body (including eyelashes and eyebrows).

Only about 10% of people with Alopecia may never regrow hair. In most cases it will regrow within a few months and sometimes can be fine and white.

What causes Alopecia?

While we know that the immune system attacks hair follicles causing damage and hair loss, we still don’t know why the inflammation occurs. Normally your immune system helps defend against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.

However, in an auto-immune response the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign substances. In the case of Alopecia, hair follicles are mistaken as a foreign invader and attacked. The triggers of such an response are unknown, it is not fungal, bacterial or viral and is not contagious.

There are some common elements, including:

  • Family history
  • History of other immune diseases (e.g. type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors (for those already genetically predisposed)

Treatment options

1. No treatment

As most people find their hair regrows within a year they may opt to not use any form of treatment. Instead they may wish to wear wigs or use styling products in the interim.

2. Medical treatments

Injections or topical ointments to help stimulate hair growth may be used. Including:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Topical sensitisers
  • Minoxidil
  • Anthralin
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)

3. Alternative therapies

While most alternative therapies are not backed by clinical trials they may be used by some to help stimulate hair growth or disguise loss. It’s important to consult a qualified healthcare professional before trying alternative therapies. Common alternative therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal supplements
  • Vitamins
  • Aromatherapy
  • Scalp Micro Pigmentation (tattooing to create visual effect of a shaved head)