Alopecia areata – Symptoms, causes, and management options

Alopecia areata – Symptoms, causes, and management options

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that affects the hair follicles, causing hair loss. Here, hair tends to fall out in small patches, but sometimes, hair loss can be extensive. The condition can affect anyone, irrespective of age and gender. The hair loss mostly affects the scalp and face. While the condition does not cause health issues, it can lead to changes in appearance that one might want to avoid.

Symptoms
Patchy hair loss: Small patches of hair may begin to fall out, usually from the scalp. Other areas that can be affected are the eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, and other body hair. The hair loss can be sudden or may develop over a few days or weeks.

Burning or itching sensation: People often experience an itching or burning sensation on the skin right before the hair starts to fall out.

Bald spots: The patches may grow larger to form a noticeable bald spot without any redness or rash.

Regrowth of hair: Hair may grow again within a few months on a bare patch while new patches continue forming. The regrowth here can be observed in people with less extensive hair loss and no family history of the disease.

Nail changes: In those with extensive hair loss, there might be changes in the appearance of their nails, such as ridges and pits.

Causes
Alopecia areata develops when the immune system attacks the cells in hair follicles. The hair follicles become smaller, leading to slow hair production, which otherwise would have grown rapidly. This causes the hair to fall out, often in clumps or patches around the size of a quarter. The extent of hair loss, however, varies from person to person. When one loses all of the hair from the head, the condition is called alopecia areata totalis. When hair loss can be observed in the entire body, it is called alopecia universalis. Some of the causes of alopecia areata are:

Genetics: According to researchers, alopecia areata is more likely to develop in those with a close family member with this condition.

Other factors: Some other factors like stress, trauma, or viral infections that can cause an inflammatory response affecting the immune system may lead to alopecia areata. The immune system can attack healthy hair follicles leading to hair loss. According to a study, people with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type-1 diabetes, lupus, or thyroid disease are at an increased risk of developing alopecia areata.

Management options
Although alopecia areata cannot be cured, one can try therapies to promote hair regrowth. For those with moderate hair loss, hair can grow back without any type of treatment. For others, treatment aims to control or stop the immune system’s attack on the hair follicles and also to stimulate the growth of hair. If one decides to undergo treatment, a dermatologist can help them choose suitable treatment options and understand the expected outcome and risks. Alternatively, some remedies for alopecia areata are:

Acupuncture: Acupuncture is an alternative treatment option that works to reduce the immune cells’ attack on hair follicles, causing hair loss. It also helps reduce the severity of alopecia areata associated with anxiety and depression.

Essential oils: Applying essential oils to the scalp can help promote hair growth. A study found that rosemary oil when applied to the affected area, can help manage certain kinds of alopecia. Lavender oil, which contains antioxidants, can also be used for the treatment of alopecia areata. A study explored the benefits of lavender oil for hair regrowth, as when applied topically on mice with bald patches, the oil led to an increase in hair follicles.

Probiotic-rich meal plan: Strengthening the immune system can help prevent the body from overreacting to perceived threats. Probiotics are essential for the digestive system and also for overall health. As the digestive tract is responsible for regulating the immune system, those with alopecia areata should add probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, kombucha, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar to their meals.

Anti-inflammatory foods: People with alopecia areata should increase their intake of anti-inflammatory foods such as broccoli, beets, blueberries, nuts, and seeds to lower the risk of inflammation. They should also add healthy fats such as olive and avocado oil to their meal plan, as these foods contain oleic acid, which helps in reducing the inflammatory response in the body.

Stress management: When dealing with alopecia, it is crucial to lower stress to let the body heal and promote hair growth. Exercise, yoga, meditation, and journaling are a few ways to reduce stress and manage hair loss.

Alopecia areata is not a serious disease, but it can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. If one is experiencing any symptoms of the condition, they should consult a doctor to understand the underlying causes and manage hair loss.

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