Alopecia, or the loss of hair, can be triggered by various causes, including age, stress and an unhealthy lifestyle. [SHUTTERSTOCK]
The loss or thinning of hair can be a very traumatic experience for many, but there are ways to treat it
If one's hair begins to significantly thin out or fall out, it can be quite distressing for many. Alopecia, or hair loss, is a common condition that impacts men, women and even children.
Dr. Rosalyn George, a dermatologist and the founder of Wilmington Dermatology Center, 710 Military Cutoff Road, Suite 320, said alopecia is a daily complaint in her office and is a huge problem for many. She recommends that anyone who experiences significant hair loss get evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist.
1) Alopecia can appear as one or more circular bald patches, shedding of hair and gradual hair loss
"Alopecia is the technical term for hair loss, and it can present in many different ways depending on what's causing it," George said. "There are some autoimmune diseases where it will show up as a circular patch where all of your hair is gone. Most commonly people will notice a thinning or shedding of their hair, so they'll notice their hair is not quite as thick or that they're losing a lot more of their hair."
2) Alopecia types can be placed into two categories -- scarring alopecia and non-scarring alopecia
According to the National Institute or Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, scarring alopecia, also called cicatricial alopecia, is a group of rare disorders that destroy hair follicles, the part of the skin from which hair grows. Scar tissue replaces the follicles, causing permanent hair loss.
"It's very important to get that diagnosed early cause we (can) treat them before people have permanent hair loss," George said. "And then there are the non-scarring alopecias, which are the vast majority of alopecia that we see ...
"If someone's noticing significant hair loss, or if someone is having symptoms -- like some of the scarring hair loss will be itchy or have redness around the hair follicles, so there may be other things going on with that type of hair loss, so it's important to have a dermatologist evaluate you."
3) Telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata are common types of alopecia
Non-scarring alopecia is the most common type of alopecia and include telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata.
"The telogen effluvium happens in times of stress -- a good stress or a bad stress," George said. "For example, during pregnancy you kind of keep all of your hair, and then once you have the baby all of that hair will shed. That can happen after someone has surgery; I see it after someone has gastric bypass surgery, where their nutrition isn't great ..."
George calls androgenetic alopecia "extraordinarily widespread." It includes hair loss caused by aging. "That's the type of hair loss that men notice when they're starting to get the widow's peak, or they are going bald on the crown of their heads. It's very terrible for women when this happens because their hair starts to thin, and it can be very distressing psychologically to people.
"The third one is alopecia areata -- that's where people lose very well demarcated areas of hair or they can lose all of their hair on their scalp, or their body. There's different variations," she said. "Most of the times it's very localized, but there are more severe cases, where people can lose all of their hair on their body or just all of the hair on their head and face."
4) Alopecia can have various causes
According to the National Library of Medicine, many men and some women lose their hair as they get older. Hair loss can also be caused by underlying diseases, such as thyroid problems, diabetes, or lupus. Certain medications, types of chemotherapy, a stressful experience, diet, family history, and poor nutrition are some other causes.
"It's a mixture of genes, hormone changes, and environmental influences that cause hair loss over time and that is very, very common," George said about androgenetic alopecia.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition, in which one's immune system basically attacks the hair follicles, which causes hair loss.
5) Treatment for alopecia depends on the cause
In some cases, treating the underlying cause can correct the problem. Other forms of treatment include medication and hair restoration techniques. One treatment for androgenetic alopecia includes Minoxidil, also known by brand name Rogaine. George said some vitamins can be helpful and some hair supplements have been linked to helping hair growth. However, she cautioned use of biotin, as excessive use of it can affect important lab work. A new therapy being used for hair loss is platelet-rich plasma injections, or PRP, where a person's blood is drawn, processed, and then injected into the scalp to help stimulate new hair growth.
George said, reducing stress, having a good diet, and getting enough sleep can all be helpful. Though trials are underway for oral medicines for people with alopecia areata, currently there are no approved medications for it.
As for telogen effluvium, George said, "all that takes is time. The hair recovers, and it grows back. It's not anything permanent, but it can be very stressful for people because you're shedding a lot of hair."
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