Maybe it started with a clump of hair on your pillow. Next, you may have noticed your hair didn’t feel as thick or full as it used to. And when you began to see bald patches on your scalp, your worst fears were confirmed: you’re dealing with hair loss, and it’s not pretty.
While there are many factors that can contribute to hair loss, one common cause is a medical condition called alopecia areata. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, over six million people in the United States suffer from this frustrating and often misunderstood skin disease.
Alopecia areata: the facts
Alopecia areata (“al-oh-pee-she-ah ar-ee-ah-ta”) is an autoimmune disease in which your body’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing hair growth to diminish to the point where it stops completely. Hair loss often occurs in round patches, although in some cases, you may experience total hair loss on your scalp, face, or body.
When it first begins, you’ll often notice yourself losing a lot of hair in a short period of time, and you may also see short hairs, known as “exclamation mark hairs,” growing in at the edges of your scalp. However, everyone experiences the symptoms of alopecia areata differently, so the best way to confirm your diagnosis is to see a trusted dermatologist.
The causes of alopecia areata
Alopecia areata affects both men and women, and while it most commonly begins in childhood, it can show up at any age. The exact causes are still unknown, though scientists think both genetic and environmental factors contribute to its development. Also, people who suffer from alopecia areata may have coexisting conditions, such as eczema, asthma, allergies, or another autoimmune disease, such as vitiligo or thyroid disease.
Treating alopecia areata
Currently, there’s no known cure for alopecia areata. Because your hair follicles remain alive, chances are extremely good that your lost hair will eventually grow back, but recurrence of the disease may happen at any time.
Fortunately, numerous treatments are available to help restore hair growth, and they vary based on the severity and location of your condition. Available medications include:
Corticosteroids to treat alopecia areata
The most common form of treatment for alopecia areata is corticosteroid injections. This is most effective for small hairless patches, and is thought to decrease inflammation around the hair follicles, triggering new growth. Although it sounds painful, the injections are done with a very small needle and the scalp is relatively “tough” and not as sensitive to injections. For more extensive cases of hair loss, oral corticosteroids may be preferred.
Topical medications to treat alopecia areata
Medicines, such as minoxidil or anthralin, can be applied directly to bald spots, and may help the hair regrow. They can be used alone, but are often used in combination with other treatments.
Immunotherapy to treat alopecia areata
Topical immunotherapy can purposely “confuse” the immune system preventing it from attacking healthy hair follicles. This involves applying materials to the affected skin to which most individuals are known to be allergic. This triggers a controlled allergic reaction that disrupts the immune response and allows hair growth to resume.
Choosing the right course of treatment for your alopecia areata requires the help of an experienced dermatologist. If you’re experiencing hair loss, talk to your doctor about your options.
As you can see, the treatments for alopecia areata are limited and, quite frankly, not as good as they should be. This disease is sorely in need of new treatments. That’s where you can help, by getting help at California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute.
Stop hair loss with help from CDCRI in San Diego
At California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute, we’re committed to helping our patients find effective treatment plans to reverse the effects of alopecia areata. By participating in one of our clinical research trials, you can even gain access to state-of-the-art medications before they hit the market.
Call us today at (760) 203-3839 and make an appointment to speak with our doctor about a research study or customized treatment plan today.