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What is Alopecia?
Just a few extra hairs in the sink and most people are alerted to potential hair loss, or more commonly known as Alopecia. Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss or baldness, and it comes in many forms that can be brought on by different factors. Alopecia is the most common hair loss condition in both men and women, and yet its symptoms and causes remain elusive to many.
What Exactly is Alopecia?
As mentioned before, Alopecia is the medical name for hair loss. When a man or woman experiences odd or excessive hair loss, Alopecia is generally the culprit, although that is not always the case as with natural baldness that occurs with age. What’s important to know is what kind of Alopecia you actually have, because it can be classified by type of hair loss or cause.
What Are the Different Types of Alopecia?
Of the many different forms of Alopecia, Androgenetic, or pattern baldness, is extremely common. This is the hereditary form of hair loss, meaning receding hairlines and bald spots can be linked to family genealogy. This form of Alopecia is usually due to a loss of specific hormones called androgens. The body is designed to convert androgens into DHT, but excessive amounts of the latter chemical can disrupt the normal function of hair follicles. At first, hairs start growing in thinner, and eventually the follicles stop producing hair at all.
Alopecia Areata is another common form of hair loss that tends to occur in spots as opposed to pattern baldness, which happens in one area of the head. There are two different types of Alopecia Areata. The first is monolocularis, which has hair loss occurring in one random spot, usually somewhere on the head. The second is multilocularis, which has hair loss occurring in several spots not limited to the head. Alopecia Areata generally starts with patchy hair loss on the scalp and may progress to the whole scalp or other areas of the body. It tends to follow an unpredictable pattern with cycles of hair loss and growth.
Some other types of Alopecia include Traction, Universalis, Cicatricial and Totalis. Traction Alopecia is the gradual loss of hair due to stress on the follicles. This is seen in people who wear tight hairstyles like high ponytails, braids and cornrows. It can also be the result of an overuse of intense chemicals that can damage follicles over time. Traction Alopecia is most evident around the hairline and nape of the neck. Alopecia Universalis is marked by extensive hair loss on the head and body, usually resulting in complete baldness of the scalp, nose, underarms and other areas. People with this form of Alopecia can go years without experiencing any hair loss, while others start losing hair shortly after birth.
Cicatricial Alopecia, also known as scarring alopecia, is an inflammatory disorder that causes scarring of the skin and the destruction of hair follicles. When follicles are destroyed, it is replaced with scar tissue and is therefore permanent. The inflammation starts below the scalp, so it isn’t obvious when a person has this condition. Only when the damage causes discoloration that lightens or darkens the scalp is there a sign of the condition. Alopecia Totalis does exactly what the name suggests: Causes total loss of head and facial hair, even eyebrows and eyelashes. After the onset of this condition, total hair loss is usually experienced within six months.
Now that we’ve gone over the various types of Alopecia, it’s important to understand what causes these conditions.
What Are the Causes of Alopecia?
A variety of medical conditions can cause Alopecia, and each kind has a different underlying source. Androgenetic Alopecia is said to be caused by our genetics, so if pattern baldness runs in the family, you may develop this condition. Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system launches a defense against the body’s own tissue, and when white blood cells attack follicles, hair loss occurs. Traction Alopecia is caused by too much stress placed on the follicles either from intense hairstyling or an overuse of hair products. Alopecia Universalis is a genetic inheritance of a mutated gene that causes hair to fall out all over the body. Cicatricial Alopecia does not have a known cause, but people who have psoriasis or other sebaceous gland disorders are more prone to developing it.
There are many medical causes of Alopecia, including autoimmune disorders like Lupus and AIDS. It can also be brought on by hypothyroidism, which is a condition where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of the hormone that keeps the body’s metabolism functioning properly. Certain fungal infections like ringworm have been known to damage the follicles on the scalp, causing hair loss. The secondary form of Syphilis has also been known to cause patchy hair loss, giving the scalp and beard a “moth-eaten” appearance. Another serious condition that can lead to Alopecia is Trichotillomania, which is a condition that causes a person to compulsively pluck out their hair. This constant plucking causing injury to the hair shafts, making regrowth extremely difficult.
Other factors can contribute to the formation of Alopecia. Poor nutrition, especially in people who are iron and protein deficient, tends to exacerbate hair loss. Certain hormonal fluctuations can cause enough stress on follicles to make them thin out and eventually stop growing. Intense hair treatments and scalp infections can cause so much damage that hair will inevitably fall out.
No matter what form of Alopecia you have, there is a way to treat it. The most common forms are the easiest to treat, especially with the use of products like Rogaine and Propecia. While the other forms are more difficult due to their severity, there are hair restoration treatments that can be effective in fighting Alopecia. The best way to figure out what treatments will work best is to meet with a certified hair loss specialist who can run tests and analyze your condition. If you are suffering from Alopecia and want to learn more about the different kinds of hair loss, or if you want to set up a consultation with a hair loss professional in your area, then contact our office today.