Is there more hair in your hairbrush than usual? Have you noticed some patchy bald spots on your head or other parts of your body? Whatever the case, you're probably wondering what’s causing your hair loss. And, you want to know how to make it stop!
What is Alopecia?
Alopecia (the medical term used for hair loss) is a common autoimmune disorder that affects millions of people in the United States. With alopecia, a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks their hair follicles (the part of your body that makes hair). This not only causes the follicles to fall out, but the hair growing from it will fall out, as well. The more hair follicles your immune system attacks, the more hair loss you will have. The good news/? Though someone with alopecia may lose their hair, their immune system doesn’t typically destroy the hair follicles completely. This means that the hair may have a chance to regrow in the future.
What Causes Alopecia?
Most cases of alopecia are hereditary and age-related, however, certain genetic and lifestyle factors may increase your risk. Men seem to be at greater risk for alopecia than women. You may be at increased risk for alopecia if:
- You have a family history of balding.
- You are currently pregnant, were recently pregnant, or have recently experienced hormonal changes that can cause hair to fall out.
- You aren’t getting proper nutrition.
- You are taking certain prescription medications that cause hair loss.
- You have certain medical conditions like lupus or diabetes.
What are The Symptoms of Alopecia?
The primary symptom of alopecia is hair shedding. This typically occurs in circular patterns that often resemble scarring on the scalp. However, depending on the type of alopecia you have, hair loss may not be just limited to the scalp area – you can experience shedding of body hair or facial hair, as well.
The three main types of alopecia are:
- Alopecia areata: This is the most commonly diagnosed type of alopecia and it presents as bald patches or spots on the scalp.
- Alopecia totalis: This type of alopecia makes up around 1-2 percent of total alopecia cases and involves hair loss that affects the entire head including eyelashes and eyebrows.
- Alopecia universalis: This extremely rare type of alopecia occurs in around only 1 in 100,000 people. It’s considered the most severe type of alopecia and presents as a complete loss of hair all over the entire body.
How Is Alopecia Diagnosed?
An exam performed by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist (a physician who specializes in treating conditions of the skin, hair and nails) is the only way to receive an official diagnosis of alopecia. During the exam, a physician will typically use a special tool to carefully examine your scalp and other areas of your body where you are experiencing symptoms. Blood tests or other diagnostic procedures may be recommended to rule out other conditions. If alopecia is diagnosed, your physician will determine the best course of treatment specifically for you.
Can Alopecia Be Treated Successfully?
The good news is mild cases of alopecia will often go through phases of dormancy and activity. So if you have a few, small patches of hair loss on your head, the hair could grow back in a couple of months without any treatment. Unfortunately, there is no true cure for alopecia. However, there are treatment options depending on your individual case. Your physician may recommend various medications, including prescription steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs, to help suppress the immune system that is attacking your hair follicles. There are also medications that can be prescribed to promote the re-growth of hair.
What Should I Do If My Hair Starts Falling Out?
If you are experiencing hair loss, it’s always best to talk with your primary care physician or your dermatologist. True alopecia doesn’t make people sick nor is it contagious, but hair loss can sometimes be a symptom of something serious that’s impacting your health in ways you don’t quite realize.
If you don’t see a dermatologist regularly, ask your primary care doctor to refer you to one. If you haven't established a primary care doctor, check out our online physician directory to find an Archbold primary care provider near you.