There is a condition that affects the immune system and results in hair loss on the scalp and body called alopecia areata. Alopecia areata affects millions of Americans and these numbers continue to rise. Our team of board certified dermatologists here at Knoxville Dermatology Group believes awareness and education about skin diseases such as alopecia areata are essential are not only to its proper management, but also to overall healthy skin.
About alopecia areata
According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, alopecia areata affects approximately two percent of the population, including more than 4.7 million people in the United States alone. Alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round, smooth patches on the scalp and can progress to total scalp hair loss (alopecia totalis) or complete body hair loss (alopecia universalis).This common skin disease is highly unpredictable and cyclical; hair can grow back in or fall out again at any time, as the disease course is different for each person.
How does alopecia areata occur?
Current evidence suggests that alopecia areata is caused by an abnormality in the immune system. This particular abnormality leads to autoimmunity. As a result, the immune system attacks certain tissues of the body such as the hair follicles, disrupting normal hair formation. Biopsies of affected skin show immune cells inside of the hair follicles where they are not normally present; however, what causes this is unknown.Sometimes alopecia areata can be found among family members, thus linking this condition to heredity.
Who is affected by alopecia areata?
Alopecia areata occurs most often in children, teens, and young adults. However, it can also affect older individuals and sometimes toddlers. This condition affects males and females equally.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The characteristic “exclamation point” hair signals presence of alopecia areata. Found in areas of hair loss and visible with a hand lens, these short, broken off hairs are narrower closer to the scalp (appearing like an exclamation point). A biopsy of the scalp is sometimes necessary for a diagnosis.
As with many chronic disorders for which there is no single treatment, a variety of remedies are promoted, but results vary by person. Furthermore, there is no known effective method of prevention, although the elimination of emotional stress is helpful. Research has not found any drugs or hair-care products associated with the onset of alopecia areata.
Flare-Ups in Existing Conditions
It has been observed by dermatologists that prolonged, intermittent direct pressure of the hair bearing areas causes patchy loss of alopecia, which mostly recovers when the continuous pressure source is removed. This can occur when wearing a tight-fitted helmet or resting the head/neck against something for long periods of time. The direct pressure is damaging the hair germinal cells and producing auto antibodies against them, which further aggravates the problem.
Evidently, mobile phones’ radio waves produce an inflammatory reaction in the skin and thus cause damage to the hair germs in the matrix. This triggers the auto immune mechanism that results in patchy hair loss.
What You Can Do
- Do not apply contact irritants as this may cause further worsening, and, sometimes cause permanent scarring if the reaction is severe.
- Find the cause (posture, stress, etc.) and remove it if possible.
- Wear lotion and a high SPF sunscreen everyday to prevent exposure to unhealthy rays. Also wear hats and accessories for additional protection.
- Keep educating yourself about this condition so you can manage it properly.
To best address the skin needs for those afflicted with alopecia areata, routine visits with a dermatologist is recommended. Not only will they assess the skin’s condition, but also are able to provide patients with advice for proper skin care. The board certified dermatologists of Knoxville Dermatology Group understand how challenging living with alopecia areata can be. However, their knowledge and attention to patient needs is conducive to proper management.