What is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia areata is a common type of hair loss that affects nearly 150 million people worldwide, regardless of gender, ethnicity or age. Alopecia is the general term used by doctors and trichologists for hair loss and areata means in areas.
Alopecia areata refers to hair loss in certain patches randomly across the scalp and elsewhere. This type of hair loss could be temporary or permanent. It could also be recursive in some cases.
The main distinctive feature of alopecia areata is the patches of hair loss. It usually begins with hair thinning in areas before leading to visible small round patches of hair loss. It very rarely leads to a universal loss of hair, or ‘alopecia universalis’.
The good news is that alopecia areata is reversible with around 98% of those affected recover from this condition.
The main diagnostic feature of alopecia areata is the presence of bald patches surrounded by little ‘exclamation mark hairs’. These are thicker at the top and taper to a thinner end, with the root a blob at the bottom.
The number of exclamation mark hairs you have can indicate how active the alopecia areata is. In general, the more there are, the more rapid its progress. However, sometimes there are no visible exclamation mark hairs at all. In these cases, alopecia areata may be diffuse (spread over a large area), but this is rare.
In alopecia there is also inflammation present at the lower end of the hair follicle, but you can’t see it. Rarely, small patches of alopecia areata can grow, overlap and progress to total baldness, or alopecia totalis.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is widely accepted to be an autoimmune disorder, where your body sees certain hair cells as foreign enemies and attacks them. What triggers this response isn’t entirely understood, but 90% of cases are associated with stress, shock, bereavement, an accident or illness.
In many cases, alopecia areata spontaneously resolves itself within a year, but there are also designated treatments that can help.
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