The word “hair” may conjure up images of long flowing locks or thick bushy beards — but for many people, it also brings thoughts of balding and thinning hair.
Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease where one’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing them to shut down, eventually leading to complete hair loss. AA can affect all parts of your body, including the scalp and eyebrows.
It usually starts between puberty and adulthood, with men being more affected than women by age 30. The average person loses about 5 percent of their total hair over time. However, some people who suffer from this condition lose as much as 90 percent of their entire head of hair within just a few years.
In most cases, there is no permanent cure available for Alopecia areata. But early detection is key because it does not spread like other forms of cancer. If caught before any damage occurs, the chances of recovery are good. Once the infection has been allowed to progress further, however, the outcome becomes less predictable.
There are currently two main treatment options available: topical treatments or oral medications. While they both work towards stopping the hair shedding process, neither offers a 100% solution. This makes AA difficult to treat and requires patients to try different approaches until something works.
This article will give you information on how to prevent Alopecia areata from progressing into full-blown stage 4 which would mean the patient needs immediate medical attention. We will also provide tips on what things you should know if you already have AA so that you can manage it at its earliest stages.
Read on to learn about the four stages of Alopecia Areata.
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Alopecia areata regrowth signs
Stage 1 – Early Detection
Early Stage 1 is characterized by patchy areas of hair loss. A small percentage of people might experience redness, inflammation, or tenderness around their area of lost hair. Other symptoms include scabs, crusts, sore spots, dry skin, bumps, discoloration, excessive shedding, inflammation, pain while pulling out hairs, and sensitivity to touch or weight changes. You can tell whether or not you’ve gone through the first phase simply by examining yourself closely. As such, you need to pay close attention to these warning signals.
If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. They could indicate that AA is advancing beyond the initial phases and needs professional help:
- A severe reduction in the number of hair strands
- Excessive hair shedding
- Red patches of missing hair
- Swelling under the skin
- Extreme itching
Different types of alopecia
There are three general categories of AA based on the type of hair loss experienced. These are diffuse alopecia, frontal fibrosarcoma, and tricho folliculitis (inflammatory).
- Diffuse Alopecia: In this case, the area affected covers your whole head. Loss of hair can start anywhere on your head and slowly move downwards. Diffuse Alopecia accounts for 80 percent of diagnosed cases of AA.
- Frontal Fibrosarcoma: When hair begins falling off the front part of your scalp and then spreads downward along the sides, you’re suffering from Frontal Fibrosarcoma. Most likely, the tumor was caused due to overexposure to sunlight, chemicals, radiation, trauma, infections, etc., but doctors aren’t sure why exactly it happens.
- Trichofolli Inflammatory Hair Loss: Trichofollis means inflammatory hair loss. It affects only the scalp and involves inflammation of the outer layers of the hair shaft, resulting in tiny wounds that lead to hair fall. The exact cause of this problem isn’t known yet, though it can be triggered by genetic factors, certain hormones, stress, medication use, nutritional deficiency, heredity, viral illness, etc.
Alopecia areata causes
While AA itself cannot be prevented completely, there are several risk factors associated with the development of the condition. Knowing your personal history helps you better understand your overall health status, thus enabling you to take preventive measures against recurrence. Here are some possible triggers that contribute to developing AA:
- Age: People above 40 are more susceptible to developing AA compared to those below 40. After 50, the incidence increases significantly.
- Genetics: Your family members’ history of hair loss plays a critical role in determining your chance of having the condition. Having a relative with AA doubles your likelihood of having it yourself.
- Sun exposure: Exposure to UV rays from sunbeds, tanning beds, and sun lamps can increase the risk of contracting AA. Sunlight directly affects melanocytes, which leads to hair cell death. Tanning salons now offer customers protection from harmful UVA rays, but regular salon visits still expose you to UVB, which can trigger hair loss.
- Hormones: Certain hormonal conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, pituitary gland diseases, pregnancy complications, breast cancer, etc., can weaken your immunity and make you vulnerable to developing AA. Women who undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are also prone to AA. Hormonal imbalances can suppress hair growth and promote autoimmunity.
- Chemicals & Drugs: Some drugs used to control seizures, arthritis, high cholesterol levels, depression, migraines, allergies, psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism, alcohol abuse, kidney failure, HIV/AIDS, stroke, lung ailments, hypertension, insomnia, etc., can also induce AA. Chemotherapy can destroy your immune cells and reduce the ability to fight infections. Radiation therapy can produce side effects similar to chemotherapy and can kill malignant cells throughout your body, leaving healthy cells behind.
- Stress: Stress can aggravate existing illnesses and conditions such as asthma, dermatitis, gastritis, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis, sinusitis, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), migraine headaches, periodontal disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative disk disease, sciatica, backache, neck stiffness, respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, bronchial spasms, constipation, diarrhea, poor sleep patterns, etc. Chronic psychological stress can adversely impact your physical well-being and even accelerate aging processes.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Vitamin B12 deficiency, iron deficiency, zinc deficiency, folic acid deficiency, calcium deficiency, low protein intake, selenium deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, lack of omega 3 fatty acids, etc., can result in various
How to stop alopecia areata from spreading?
Things to avoid when you have alopecia areata:
- Avoid unnecessary hair or scalp trauma
If you have alopecia, you might be looking for ways to maintain your hair. One of the easiest things to do is to avoid unnecessary hair or scalp trauma. For instance, if you are trying to maintain your hair, don’t wash your hair every day. If you want to use a blow dryer, use it in a cool setting. You should also avoid using a curling iron or hot roller. If you want to dye your hair, use a color that is a lower temperature than what the box says.
- Reduce stress
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. It’s usually first noticed when the person begins to lose their eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair on the scalp. To stop alopecia areata from spreading, you should first take steps to reduce your stress levels. Chronic stress is a leading cause of hair loss, and it can cause physical and mental health problems.
What’s more, stress can predispose an individual to develop alopecia areata. The cause of alopecia areata is unknown, but stress is a known contributor. The good news is that reducing your stress levels can help to stop hair loss. You should also consider taking a break from all your responsibilities. Rest is essential for your mental and physical health, and it can help to reduce your stress levels. You may also want to consider talking to a mental health professional.
- Analyze your diet
In some cases, hair loss can be linked to nutritional deficiency. It is important to be mindful of your diet when trying to prevent hair loss. The most common nutritional deficiencies are vitamins B, D, and A. Vitamin B deficiency is most often found in cases where hair loss is a result of a thyroid condition.
When your body is deficient in vitamin D, it can contribute to hair loss. Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to hair loss. You can find out if you are deficient in these vitamins by analyzing your diet. You should look for a variety of colors and textures in your food. This is an easy way to tell if you are getting too much or too little of any nutrients.
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The final word
Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease where one’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing them to shut down, eventually leading to baldness, “scalp only” alopecia, or alopecia Universalis.
Certain triggers such as stress, obesity, and certain medications can cause an autoimmune attack, leading to the loss of hair, but there are some things that you can do to help prevent this. These include maintaining a balanced diet and exercising, though it is advised that you speak with your doctor before making any drastic changes.