What is Alopecia? 

Hair has long been a way for people to express themselves and is tied to individual identity in many ways, so a sudden loss of hair can be traumatic. In some cases, sudden hair loss is caused by a condition called alopecia. There can be many causes of alopecia, resulting in a variety of symptoms from thinning hair to loss of eyelashes to complete hair loss. Here are a few things to know about this condition. 

What is alopecia? There are a few different types of alopecia, but the most common type of this autoimmune disorder that leads to hair loss is called alopecia areata. In the United States, this affects about one in every 500 to 1,000 people and it can develop in children, teens or adults. 

A person’s hair can fall out in quarter-sized clumps, or be an overall loss, according to WebMD. Alopecia can mean hair loss just on a person’s head, or it could include other areas like eyebrows and eyelashes.  

What causes alopecia? Alopecia can have a few different causes. Because it is an autoimmune disorder, it means a person’s body turns against itself: the body’s cells attack its own hair follicles, leading to hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology . The amount of hair that falls out depends on the number of follicles attacked. There are several things that can trigger alopecia. These include:  

  • Genetics 
  • Stress 
  • Childbirth 
  • Excessive dieting 
  • Physical trauma 
  • Reaction to medication 
  • Asthma 
  • Hay fever 
  • Vitamin D or iron deficiency 
  • Low or overactive thyroid 

Symptoms of alopecia. If you notice more strands of hair coming out on your brush, how do you know if you have alopecia or just regular hair loss? The autoimmune disorder does have some signs to watch out for. 

  • The skin under the hair loss area on the scalp or other parts of the body is smooth, with no rashes or red bumps 
  • There is a lot of hair loss in a short amount of time 
  • There is more hair loss during cold weather 
  • Small patches of hair loss can expand into larger bald areas 
  • A person’s nails on fingers and toes may become brittle or red 

Can alopecia be treated or cured? Medical experts say that in about half of alopecia cases, much of a person’s hair will grow back within a year. But also, once a person develops alopecia, the condition can return years later, even after hair regrowth. While there is no overall cure for alopecia, there are treatment options. These may include: 

  • Finding ways to reduce stress: Since stress can be a major trigger, some people use meditation, exercise or therapy as ways to reduce their stress levels. 
  • Hair regrowth treatment: Some products can spark the regrowth of hair that are available over the counter. Talk to your health care provider before starting any product.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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