Persistent Patchy Alopecia Areata: One Type of Hair Loss Explained
Even though it can be frustrating to watch precious hair strands slip down the drain, on average, most of us shed between 50 and 100 hairs daily. This routine process allows the hair cycle to function as usual and allows new hair to emerge. But this natural occurrence can become complicated when widespread hair loss happens, and hair regrowth grinds to a halt.
If you're exhibiting sudden hair loss and noticing persistent patchiness across your entire scalp, it could be alopecia areata, a condition that comes in many forms. To find out more about the different types of alopecia areata and their treatments, VEGAMOUR spoke to a dermatologist and dug into the research. Plus, discover what all-natural hair care products can help you get thicker, fuller looking hair.
What Is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia areata is widely considered an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases can develop when the immune system confuses healthy cells with unwanted foreign substances. This confusion can convince the entire body to believe that it's under attack from viruses or bacteria. Patients with alopecia areata have an immune system that mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, which can trigger hair loss. Dermatologist Dr. Cory Gaskins, BSc, M.D., CCFP, told VEGAMOUR, "Alopecia occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing them to miniaturize and eventually stop producing hair. In some cases, alopecia can lead to complete baldness."
Alopecia areata, in some cases, can cause permanent hair loss and affects men, women and children. It's also been suggested that the condition varies across ethnicities. For example, some findings indicate that Hispanic and African American females can experience the condition for longer across their lifetime when compared to white females. It's also suggested that Asian women experience mild alopecia areata compared to white females. More research needs to take place that includes details about patterns and environments to confirm these findings, though.
What Causes Alopecia Areata?
The following conditions and occurrences may increase the risk of alopecia areata:
- Genetic factors and family history
- Polyglandular autoimmune disease type 1
- Other autoimmune conditions, including thyroid disease and vitiligo
- Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders
It has been hypothesized that anagen hair follicles are critical in the pathogenesis of alopecia areata, and most, if not all, people with alopecia areata have a genetic predisposition to the condition. A healthy hair cycle usually passes through phases:
- Anagen is the hair growth phase that lasts up to eight years.
- Catagen is the short phase where hair follicles shrink and growth slows.
- Telogen is the hair's resting phase, which can last several months.
- Exogen is when the hair sheds.
Different Types of Alopecia Areata
There are different types of alopecia areata, but most cause hair to fall out in clumps. Hair falls differently for everyone; some only lose it in certain spots, some experience loss across their entire scalp and some live with complete hair loss. Here are the primary forms of alopecia areata to watch out for:
Alopecia Areata (Patchy)
"Patchy alopecia areata is the most common type of alopecia," said Gaskins. "It affects both men and women equally. Patchy alopecia areata usually starts with one or more small, round patches of hair loss on the scalp. The hair loss may spread to other body parts, such as the beard, eyebrows or eyelashes." This alopecia areata can convert into alopecia totalis (hair loss across the scalp) or alopecia universalis (hair loss from the entire body — including pubic hair). In most cases, alopecia areata remains patchy until regrowth eventually happens.
Alopecia areata totalis indicates extensive alopecia areata across the scalp. The alopecia areata symptoms can initially show up as disc-shaped bald patches, but some experience such rapid hair loss that the patchy period quickly turns into severe alopecia areata, with the hair loss so evident baldness occurs.
Alopecia Universalis (Persistent Patchy Alopecia Areata)
If you or someone you love has experienced hair loss across the scalp, face and entire body, they could be experiencing alopecia universalis. Those suffering could even lose the hairs from inside their nose and experience itching or a burning sensation in the affected areas. Alopecia universalis is a very smooth alopecia hair loss, and scarring alopecia is less likely to occur.
Alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis are similar, and many people experience alopecia that falls somewhere between the two forms. In both forms of alopecia, it was found that the anagen follicles had failed to develop as expected. Always check in with your medical provider if you're concerned — a skin biopsy may be required if the diagnosis is uncertain.
Diffuse Alopecia Areata
This type of Alopecia is characterized by a sudden thinning of hair all over the scalp instead of strands falling out in patches. Diffuse alopecia areata is also known as alopecia areata incognita, and it can be hard to diagnose because it looks so similar to telogen effluvium and androgenetic alopecia (male and female pattern hair loss).
Ophiasis Alopecia Areata
Ophiasis alopecia areata is a type of hair loss with a specific pattern. The hair tends to fall out from the scalp's sides and at the head's lower back. This type of alopecia can be tricky to treat because it can resist medication. But research has shown microneedling to be successful.
Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia
Hair breakage is an early sign of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, with hair loss typically beginning at the top of the scalp. From the top of the scalp, inflammation of the hair follicles causes loss to continue and extend outwards.
This hair loss is caused by repeatedly tugging at the hair from the follicles. It can develop if someone persistently wears hair extensions or if they wear their hair up in braids, buns or tight ponytails. It can also occur if excessive heat is persistently used.
Unfortunately, this type of alopecia is a side effect of chemotherapy, which is medication administered to prevent cancer from spreading. As a result, patients can experience significant hair loss and other physical changes. Developing alopecia areata when already fighting a challenging health condition can be extremely distressing, and it's important patients tap into their support system when needed.
Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia
Frontal fibrosing alopecia destroys the hair follicles and causes permanent hair loss. The condition tends to start slowly, with a thin band of hair receding along the front and sides of the hairline.
How To Treat Alopecia Areata or Persistent Patchy Alopecia Areata
Many things can trigger alopecia areata, and it can be a frustrating and long-winding road to recovery. If you're worried you're experiencing a type of alopecia areata, consult a doctor.
Alopecia areata treatment can include medication and light therapy to stimulate blood flow. Steroids and other types of prescribed medications can encourage spontaneous hair regrowth. "Intralesional corticosteroids are injected into the affected area to help promote hair growth," explained Gaskins. "This type of treatment is typically used for small areas of hair loss. Topical corticosteroids are applied to the scalp in a cream or ointment form and can be used for larger areas of hair loss."
Alopecia universalis or persistent patchy alopecia areata can be frustrating and upsetting to live with. It's impossible to know how your body hair will react to treatment, so contact a local support network if you need further guidance.
Using products that have no known toxins and only natural ingredients will help keep your strands healthy and vibrant. VEGAMOUR's 360°approach considers your entire body and keeps hair wellness a priority. From nourishing hair- and scalp-detoxifying serums to phyto-active-rich shampoos and conditioners to hair-healthy supplements, VEGAMOUR has something for everyone!
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