Alopecia areata is a common condition that leads to hair loss in patches, normally on the face or scalp but sometimes on other areas of the body as well. It is one of the so-called autoimmune diseases.
Alopecia areata has genetic causes and is considered a "polygenic disease". It most situations, a parent who suffers from alopecia areata will not pass it to its offspring. This is because a combination of several specific genes from both parents is required for the disease transmission. Even in the case of identical twins, who have the same genes, there is only a 55% chance that both of them will suffer from alopecia areata. Genetics alone are not enough to trigger the disease and there seem to be other external or environmental factors involved.
Like in all autoimmune diseases, the condition is caused by the body attacking its own cells. The immune system turns on the hair follicles, which become smaller and weaker. If the attack continues for a long time, the follicle eventually stops producing hair.
Alopecia areata is a disease with various effects that are often hard to predict. It can affect various areas of the body and the severity of the condition is also variable. Sometimes, the hair will fall and then grow back in an area for several years, in cyclical fashion. It is also possible for the hair to regenerate in only a few months.
There are several forms of alopecia areata, three types are the most common. The patchy variety is most often encountered and causes one or several bald zones on the scalp or any areas with hair. These are about the same size as a coin. Alopecia totalis affects the scalp only, causing complete baldness. An even more drastic variant is alopecia universalis, when the hair from the entire body is lost.
Scientists have found no effective treatment for alopecia areata yet. However, the disease doesn't actually kill the hair follicles permanently. Since the follicles remain active, the hair will eventually grow again. This happens even in severe cases, when more than half of the hair was lost. The situations when all of the body or scalp hair is gone are rare, no more than 5% of total cases. It must be noted that alopecia areata is often cyclical. Even if the hair grows back, it can fall off again after some time or it might need several years until full regrowth.
The good news is that alopecia areata can't be transmitted and is not contagious. It is not caused by stress or nerves, but by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy hair follicles. This affects the root of the hair, which falls off. The condition is not connected with others and it can affect otherwise healthy individuals.
There are several symptoms of alopecia areata, which can happen separately or at the same time. The most common is the loss of hair in patches. It starts with a single patch the size of a coin that becomes perfectly smooth and bald. Sometimes the hair falls off quickly and it is visible during a shower or it remains on the pillow. The patches normally emerge on the scalp and their size is variable. However, they can also affect any area of the body with hair, such as the beard, eyebrows or eyelashes.
Another symptoms are the so-called "exclamation mark" hairs. They are unusual because the top is thicker than their bottom, just like an exclamation mark. These hairs are short and can be found near the bald patches.
In time, the condition can sometimes become worse. Some people eventually lose all the hair on their scalp, while others can become bald on their entire body, although such cases are unusual. Rarely, the hair is lost just on a band on the back side of the head.
Alopecia areata can also attack the nails on both the fingers and the toes. It has various effects on them, from simple small pits or dents on their surface to lines or white areas. The nails also become split, rough, thin and opaque. In rare cases, the shape of the nail is deformed or it can fall off completely. Alopecia areata can sometimes begin with nail problems, then evolve to hair loss.
Alopecia areata as mentioned before is one of the autoimmune diseases where the immune cells wrongly identify body cells as pathogens and attack them. It is believed that many separate factors can contribute to this faulty immune response. The exact mechanism or trigger for alopecia areata is unknown. Researchers are not even sure if the cause is internal, from a virus or bacteria attack, or external, caused by toxins or other external factors. It might even be a mix of these factors. What is knows is the end result, which is the attack on healthy hair follicles.
Even if it is a skin disease, alopecia areata doesn't have any of the related symptoms like itching, redness or rashes. However, an area without hair becomes more vulnerable to cold and other factors. Some people who suffer from alopecia areata feel the need to cover the affected areas, in order to protect them from sun and weather extremes, even if this isn't really necessary.
There are a number of possible treatments available, depending on the severity of hair loss, the type of disease and the age of the patient. These either decrease the effect of the immune attack on the cells or boost hair growth in order to compensate for the damage done. They are especially effective when the condition is not very serious, with less than half of the follicles in the area being affected. Massaging with Elma 11 Hair and Scalp Revitalizer is a great choice, since this natural oil speeds up hair regrowth.