Apart from male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia), the most common type of alopecia is alopecia areata, which in a small number of cases can develop into alopecia totalis (total hair loss).
Alopecia areata is a common condition that results in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere. It occurs in males and females of all ages, but onset most often occurs in childhood. In alopecia areata, the affected hair follicles become very small, drastically slowing down production.
This results in no hair growth visible above the surface for months or even years. However, no matter how widespread the hair loss, the hair follicles remain alive and are ready to resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal.
During her teens, Niamh developed alopecia, and has suffered intermittent hair loss ever since.
“I was 15 years old when the alopecia started. I was blow-drying my hair when I noticed a small bald patch on the side of my head. I ignored it and hoped it would go away, but it didn’t. Over the the next few weeks my hair started shedding. It was on the pillow in the morning and when I brushed my hair it would all come away in the brush.
I was devasted and went to see my G.P. thinking he would prescribe a cure for me. Instead, he referred me to a dermatologist who told me that I had alopecia areata. I started on a long road of different treatments from steroid injections to Chinese herbal medicine. Nothing seemed to work and I was almost completely bald, I wore a hat at all times. The thought of wearing a hairpiece horrified me. I don’t really know why, but it was a definite no for me. Eventually at age 18, I decided to be fitted with a hairpiece. It took about a week before I left the house, but it was great. My confidence returned.
It was difficult at times. When you wear a hairpiece, you have to think about how to get around certain situations like swimming, but I’ve found that with a little planning you can live your life pretty much as good as the next person. I’m now 31, and in the past year most of my hair has grown back and I no longer need a hairpiece. If my hair started to fall out again, I would have no hesitation in wearing a hairpiece. It really is possible to get a hairpiece that looks and feels really good.
Q : What causes alopecia?
Anne : Alopecia is an auto-immune condition. Current research suggests that something triggers the immune system to suppress the hair follicle. It is unknown whether the trigger comes from outside the body like a virus, or from inside the body. Recent research indicates that some persons have genetic markers that may increase their susceptibility to develop alopecia areata.
Q : Is alopecia due to nerves?
Anne: No, it is not a nervous disorder. You have not caused alopecia. It is an illness and nothing to feel ashamed of.
Q : Who is affected?
Anne: Research suggests that at any one time, one in a thousand people may be affected, but over a lifetime the risk of experiencing alopecia areata can be as high as one or two per hundred.
Q : How does alopecia areata start?
Anne: Alopecia usually starts with a bald patch, which often disappears within six months to two years. Sometimes two patches can merge together and wider areas will be affected. In some cases total baldness may occur. There is no way at present to predict the course of alopecia in individual clients. Research suggests that 65% of people will experience one or two patches of hair loss while 35% will experience more persistent hair loss. Approximately 7% will experience total hair loss.
Q : Is there a cure for alopecia areata?
Anne: At present, there is no cure for alopecia areata, although the hair may return by itself. There are various creams on the market which attempt to stimulate the follicle to produce hair again and some dermatologists suggest cortisone injections. Even though we have a resident trichologist and understand alopecia in its various forms, we advise you to see your G.P. or Dermatologist. We do not sell lotions or creams.
Q : What should I do if I find a small patch?
Anne: Talk to your G.P. who may monitor your condition or refer you to a dermatologist. You could try our concealing powders and creams for small patches or overall thinning too.
Q : Is there any support for dealing with alopecia?
Yes there are and it does help to talk and share with others in the same situation (see links page). It is possible to live a full active life with alopecia. Roches also run workshops and open days for people with alopecia. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be updated on all our events.