According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, approximately 147 million people worldwide have or will develop alopecia areata at some point in their lives (1). This condition can cause your hair to fall out in patches and cause distress. If you have noticed extra hair on your brush or odd bald spots while looking in the mirror, you might have alopecia. What is alopecia? Are there any treatment options? Scroll down for the answers and more.
Table Of Contents
What Is Alopecia?
Alopecia is an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body, like the eyebrows, eyelashes, and face (1). It causes your hair to fall out in patches and can lead to a complete scalp hair loss or even full body hair loss.
What Are The Types Of Alopecia?
There are several types of alopecia, depending on the extent of hair loss and symptoms experienced (2). They include:
- Patchy alopecia areata: It is characterized by multiple separate or conjoined patches of hair loss.
- Alopecia totalis: This condition involves almost or total hair loss on the scalp.
- Alopecia universalis: This involves total hair loss on all haired surfaces of the body.
- Alopecia incognita: Its onset is characterized by abrupt and intense hair loss. This usually does not involve patchy distribution of hair loss.
- Ophiasis: In this condition, hair loss occurs along the circumference of the head, i.e., the border of the occipital and temporal bones.
- Sisaipho: Hair loss occurs everywhere except around the scalp periphery.
Let’s now understand the causes of this condition.
Causes Of Alopecia
Alopecia is often caused by genetics, oxidative stress, chemicals, side effects of medicines or treatments, nutrient deficiency, psychological stress, or an illness (2).
- Genetics: If your parents have a hair loss problem, it is likely that you will as well. While this is more evident in men, women, too, are likely to develop genetically inherited alopecia.
- Oxidative Stress: An imbalance in the production of free radicals causes oxidative stress, which causes hair loss. Oxidative stress can be affected by intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
- Chemicals: While everyone wants their hair to look on point all the time, going overboard with chemical hair treatments and hot styling tools can lead to hair fall.
- Side Effects Of Medicines: Certain medical conditions call for treatments and surgeries. While these treat your condition, the side effects of the treatments can often damage the hair follicles and cause rapid hair fall. Treatments like chemotherapy, steroids, and medication for typhoid, heart diseases, depression, etc. may cause extreme hair fall.
- Acne medications containing vitamin A (retinoids)
- Antibiotics and antifungal drugs
- Birth control pills
- Anti-clotting drugs
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Drugs that suppress the immune system
- Drugs that treat breast cancer and other cancers
- Epilepsy drugs (anticonvulsants)
- High blood pressure medications (anti-hypertensives), such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Mood stabilizers
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Parkinson’s disease drugs
- Thyroid medications
- Weight loss drugs
- Nutrient Deficiency: Deficiency of red blood cells in the body, sudden loss of blood, and insufficient iron levels can cause not only fatigue, weakness, and headaches, but also hair loss (7). Insufficient intake of nutrients and following an unhealthy and unbalanced diet can cause malnourishment in the body. This leads to dehydration of the scalp and hair and can trigger excessive hair fall.
- Psychological Stress: Persistent illness, drastic and excessive weight loss, and extreme physical labor can cause the body to get dehydrated and exhausted. This can make the hair follicles undernourished and weak and may cause rapid hair loss.
- Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes in the body increase the sensitivity of hair follicles, weaken the hair roots, and cause excess hair fall (8). Menopause, ovarian cyst, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, etc. bring about changes in your body’s hormonal balance, which may eventually lead to hair loss.
- Illness: Some illnesses like autoimmune diseases and thyroid disorders can cause hair loss.
While alopecia cannot be treated, natural treatments and medications can help slow down its progression and accelerate hair growth. Here are a few natural treatments for alopecia.
What Are The Best Natural Treatments For Alopecia?
- Nutritional support: Minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, chromium, iodine, zinc, and magnesium are necessary to maintain healthy hair growth (9). Yogurt and soy, dark green vegetables, whole grain products, essential fatty acids, and nuts and seeds are typically the best sources of vitamin E, an antioxidant and nerve protector. Carrots contain high amounts of vitamin A. It is an antioxidant that helps produce healthy sebum in the scalp. Having too much vitamin A can lead to hair loss. There are many other foods that help promote hair growth and prevent hair loss, such as fruits, eggs, spinach, and broccoli.
- DHT Blockers And 5-α-reductase Blockers: The use of herbs that have pronounced DHT or 5-α-reductase blocking activity can be used for the treatment of alopecia (10).
- Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used as a supplement to treat alopecia (11). It uses highly concentrated extracts, which are derived from the flowers, leaves, bark, and the roots of various plants. As with herbs that are taken orally, the essential oils reach the circulatory system (the blood), where they bind to receptors and change the chemical composition. These oils work not only on a cellular level to strengthen/calm the nervous system, but also on a spiritual one, providing a sense of well-being. Topical herbal therapy stimulates hair follicles, and it is proved as the safest way to cope up with different types of hair loss (alopecia).
In the next section, we have listed out the symptoms of alopecia.
Symptoms Of Alopecia
Here are some of the symptoms of alopecia. If you notice any signs of these, consult your doctor:
- Genetic hair loss in the family
- Severe hair shedding
- Hair thinning
- Hair fall at a particular area on the scalp
Medical treatments approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for androgenetic alopecia include topical 2% minoxidil for women and topical 5% minoxidil and oral type II 5-α-reductase inhibitor ﬁnasteride (1 mg/day) for men (12), (13). The oral type I and II 5-α-reductase inhibitor, dutasteride, is also effective at the dosage of 0.5 mg/day but is not approved for this indication.
Topical minoxidil should be applied twice daily and used for at least 12 months before making a decision regarding its efﬁcacy.
Hair transplantation, which is a surgical method of hair restoration, is an option for male and female patients over the age of 25 years with substantial hair loss. The degree and type of hair loss should be considered because ideal candidates for hair transplantation are those with frontal and mid frontal hair loss. Follicular unit hair transplantation is preferred because it preserves the natural architecture of the hair units and gives natural results.
With all the new technologies, age-old natural remedies, and a tweak to your hair care regimen, dealing with alopecia can become easier. Talk to a dermatologist or trichologist who will suggest the right mode of treatment for you.
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