What is Alopecia?

Many women are affected by Alopecia for varying reasons, but the devastating social and psychological results are the same. Alopecia is a term meaning hair loss. Hair loss, alopecia, affects men and women. The loss of hair for a woman can greatly affect self-esteem and confidence.

In children, Alopecia in girls (boys too) often leads to ridicule, bullying, embarrassing taunts and teasing. I remember witnessing these taunts as a young, elementary school child.  Recently, I witnessed children and adults pointing, whispering and commenting in a local store, at a worker with Alopecia. I must say, the children appeared curious asking why the man had “patchy hair” (my daughter’s words— a great time to educate); the adults’ behaviors, however, were deplorable.

What Causes Alopecia?

The main cause of Alopecia is heredity. Other stresses can trigger Alopecia such as chemotherapy, anorexia, malnutrition, thyroid disorders, severe infections, pregnancy, and stress. These later triggers are usually temporary, unlike Alopecia caused by heredity.

Typical hair loss in women occurs as we age and is usually limited to thinning (hair shaft) and slower hair growth. Menopause is usually the trigger as our hormones change. Hereditary alopecia, Androgenetic Alopecia, causes a thinning of hair due to a loss of hair follicles. Although this is the most common, its cause is unknown.

Other types of alopecia include: Alopecia Areata (patchy loss of the scalp, eyebrows, and other parts of the body); Traction Alopecia (loss due to tension/pulling of the hair from things such as braiding or other hairstyles that pull at the hair); Trichtotillomania (loss due to one pulling out one’s own hair and eating it); Telogen Effluvium (due to poor nutrition); Loose Anagen Syndrome (loss due to scalp hair coming out very easily while shampooing, brushing etc); Triangular Alopecia (hair loss around the temples); Scarring Alopecia (permanent loss of hair due to inflammation from scaring on the scalp).

How is Alopecia Diagnosed?

Alopecia is generally diagnosed by evaluating the symptoms that a person experiences. This is typically all that is needed along with the physical examination.

To rule out other things, dermatologists may perform a scalp biopsy where a very small portion of the scalp is removed from at least 2 areas of the scalp. The scalp is examined in a lab to determine, definitively, what type of alopecia a person has.

How Is Alopecia Treated?

The treatment for Alopecia is as varied as their causes. For example, someone with traction alopecia will be told to avoid all hairstyles that will put tension on the hair and, if caught early enough, hair growth may return.

Trichotillomania is often triggered by stress or psychological issues. For this type of alopecia, a psychiatrist or psychologist may be necessary for treatment. Telogen Effluvium could be treated by correcting the nutritional deficiencies.

There are some new medications on the market to stimulate hair growth or block the hormones triggering the loss.

Overall, alopecia is a difficult diagnosis to deal with and just as difficult to manage. Treatment can be frustrating, often leading many women to wear wigs or other head coverings.

There doesn’t seem to be a huge push for new treatment remedies, but hopefully, that will change in the future. Until there is a cure for these disorders, our job is to educate others; children, and adults as well.

As a 5th grader, I asked the teased child in my school why she wore a wig. When she explained, it became my job to tell others the ‘why’ behind the wig…sort of like a small advocate. Even the biggest bully no longer found her situation funny and over time everyone began to see the person. Just imagine how your co-worker feels every day when adults are commenting, snickering and teasing them. Imagine a life like that. We should always, no matter the outer physical appearance, see the person inside!

References:
http://www.americanhairloss.org/women_hair_loss/treatment.asp
www.medterms.com

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