First off, understand that alopecia areata is not a problem of the hair. Alopecia areata is merely a symptom of the real issue of a malfunctioning immune system that mistakenly attacks your body’s natural hair growth process and cycle.
Your hair is probably always trying to go through its natural and normal course of growth-shed but it has no chance of doing so very well because your immune system keeps killing it off, the same way it protects you by killing off invaders, viruses, bacteria, and pathogens.
Therefore, the key is in restoring the balance of your immune system so that it is not only strong, but also strong in attacking the ‘right’ things.
You can support your immune system in ‘doing its job’ so that it recognises your hair as part of our body, not as invaders that it needs to attack, by helping support its natural immune modulation abilities. Immune modulation is made up of two main components: (1) immuno-stimulators and (2) immuno-supppressors.
Immuno stimulators are what we need when our body senses threats from infectious agents, or cancer cells developing. Our immune cells launch their weapons to fight off these threats, a process known as acute inflammation (good inflammation). And immuno suppressors must then recognise when the fight is over and stop the fight. Problems occur when they don’t stop the fight when the fight is over, sending our body into a chronic inflammation state.
Now, immuno modulation is a process that regulates these two components, so that our body is able to effectively turn on and off inflammation as it needs to.
Certain plants have been studied to posses potential bioactive compounds that are capable of immuno-modulation. Polysaccharides from certain plants have prompted researchers to study their physical properties and potential use.
Mushrooms are distinguished as an important food containing immuno-modulating compounds. These compounds belong mostly to polysaccharides, especially β-Glucans (beta-glucans).
A dermatologist can also give you steroid injections which reduce the immune response locally and that usually interrupts the auto-immune response, allowing the hair to regrow. However, there is no guarantee that the auto-immune response won’t start again in that or another area, and you can’t or shouldn’t use steroid injections in the same area frequently, as this can cause thinning of the skin and other problems.
How dangerous is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia Areata is again serious hair loss problems which occurs due to the low immune system which directly attacks the hair follicles. Whenever you are finding hairs on your pillow, brush and shower drain or bald patches on the scalp, you are suffering from the autoimmune disorder. This Problem is common among both male and females having an age of 20 years, although adults or children of any age group may also get affected with the same.
One may have lost the hair follicle one by one, or in clumps or shape of a quarter, the situation may vary from person to person. Some people may rarely face the problem of complete baldness on the head (alopecia areata totalis) or entire body (alopecia areata universalis).
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia Areata always leads to the different situation to different people. But here we can find the common signs and symptoms as given below:-
- Baldness patches on the scalp, beard area and on some part of the body
- Partial hair Loss on either side of the scalp
- Excessive hair loss within in short period of time
- Hair loss and regrowth in different areas of the body
- Clumps of hairs on the pillow or in a shower drain.
What are the Causes of Alopecia Areata?
Being an autoimmune disease, it has directly related to the human immune system. It simply means, when the immune system fails to defend the foreign substances such as viruses and bacteria. These foreign substances become heavy on a human body and may attack the hair follicles directly causing hair loss. When immune attacks occurred, hair follicle becomes smaller, stops producing hairs and lead to baldness.
Researchers are not able to trigger the exact causes, So the common causes can be described as:-
- The family history of autoimmune disorders or diseases such as Type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Environmental factors may also trigger the people having a genetically low immune system
- Contraction of Foreign substance with the human internal immune system.
How is Alopecia Areata Diagnosed?
The doctor will first ask for your medical reports, family history, and past disease history just to confirm about the immune system. He may also examine you physically. The doctor will ask you few questions about the emotional or environmental factors you are staying with. To make the diagnosis better, Doctor may plunge few hairs from the scalp and may examine them. Apart from this, a doctor will always look for the signs and symptoms you are facing with.
Even after making physical and medical check-ups, if causes are still unknown, a doctor may ask you to conduct the following tests:-
- Hair Analysis: Plucking a hair from the scalp, analyzing under the microscope. Scalp Biopsy: it is done to rule out the conditions of hair loss, fungal infections or tinea capitis. To evaluate the scalp, a small piece of scalp skin will be removed and will analyze with the help of a microscope.
- Blood Test: This will be done to measure the under-active or overactive thyroid gland conditions. Although the blood tests may be performed to check the other autoimmune disorders or if autoantibodies are found in the blood. The name of the blood tests which may be undertaken to evaluate the same are:-C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rateiron levelsantinuclear antibody testthyroid hormonesfree and total testosteronefollicle stimulating and luteinizing hormone
What are the Various Treatments for Alopecia Areata?
There is not the hard and fast rule to treat the Alopecia Areata, but with the help of meditational and surgical treatment, hair loss can be stopped. We may get the situation of regrowth or regain hair loss.
Medicational Treatment of Alopecia Areata
- Intralesional Corticosteroid Injections: In this treatment, corticosteroids are injected into exposed patches of the scalp with using the needle. The injection process is repeated after every 4-6 weeks to maintain the hair growthPros: The hair growth can be visible within 4 weeks only. It even does not stop the new hair loss from growing.Cons: Sometime, it may cause depression in the scalp skin. Needle inserting may also lead to some discomfort or pain.
- Topical Minoxidil: 5% topical minoxidil is used at the affected areas of eyebrows, scalp or beard once or twice a day. The solution itself is not effective at all, so it is used with the topical corticosteroid medicines to check for the positive improvement.Pros: It is easy to use and carry. It has minimal side-effects. The medicine can be stopped anytime.Cons: It is along not effective to treat the extensive hair loss.
- Anthralin Cream or Ointment: The cream is applied on the bald patches once is a day. It can be left for 30-60 minuted before washing the hairs. It is also helpful to treat psoriasis. Pros: The results are generally visible within 8-12 weeks onlyCons: Sometimes, it may cause skin irritation temporarily. It may also cause brownish discoloration of the skin.
- Topical Corticosteroids:- These topical are used to reduce the inflammation around the hair follicle. These are available in the market by different names, brand, quantity, solutions, foams, creams, and lotions.Pros: It is helpful to reduce the hair loss and can show the hair growth or regrowth of about 25%. Cons: The absorption of ointment is limited in the scalp.
(Above mentioned medications are helpful to treat the mild Alopecia Areata)
- Oral Corticosteroids: This is prescribed by the doctor only in case of excessive hair loss on the scalp to regrow the hairs.Pros: The regrowth can be experienced within the short period of time.Cons: It may have some adverse effect, health risks by using the medication for long term. Young adults may tolerate the medicine. Stopping the treatment may also lead to stop of hair growth or reoccurrence of hair loss.
- Topical Immunotherapy: It involves the application of chemicals as diphencyprone, dinitrochlorobenzene or squaric acid dibutyl ester to the scalp resulting in the allergic rash that modifies the immune response.Pros: 40% people have seen the successful hair regrowth with using this treatment.Cons: The common side-effects are rashes, redness, and itching wherever it is applied.
- Immunomodulators: Drugs such as Ruxolitinib and Tofacitinib are available as an oral medication to restore the hair growth.Pros: It is also helpful to cure the long-term hair loss situationCons: being having the new therapy, no sufficient information is available.
Some other medications such as minoxidil (Rogaine) can be rubbed on the scalp to stimulate hair growth. Other common therapies such as steroid injections or corticosteroid creams and ointments, photochemotherapy etc may be used.
Therapy Treatment for Alopecia Areata:-
- Herbal supplements
Surgical Treatment for Alopecia Areata
Medications may not always be effective to cure the hair loss so surgical treatments can be opted such as:-
- Follicular Unit Extraction or FUE: In this method, Hair follicles are extracted from the donor area and then implanted into reception area after making an incision. It an advanced procedure so not cut is involved in this.
- Direct Hair Transplant: It is the modern technology which is 2-4 day procedure and may lead to implant maximum 6000 hairs.
How to Cope with Alopecia Areata:-
Any human disease can be stressful and can be challenging so here are various tips to cope with Alopecia Areata emotionally or physically:-
- Apply sunscreen to protect the exposed area from the sunburns
- Wear sunglasses the protect the eyelashes or eyebrows.
- Wear wig, scarf or hat to protect the bald head or scalp.
- Take the help of counselors who may share their life experience to cope with these problems.
- Apply Hair colors on the scalp to make the hair loss less obvious
- Apply Kajal pencil to hide the baldness of eyebrows
The effectiveness of treatment will always vary person to person so better to consult with the doctor on the daily basis to cure the Hair Loss Problems or Alopecia Areata.