In 1986, the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) declared September Alopecia Awareness Month. Throughout the month, public service and fundraising campaigns will generate awareness about alopecia areata and support people who live with the condition. If you see someone sporting a blue ribbon this month, odds are they are promoting alopecia awareness.
As a telemedicine company dedicated to helping people regrow their hair, Happy Head is proud to support the movement. Being diagnosed with alopecia can make people feel powerless. However, recent advances give patients more options and hope than ever before. Here are some facts about the condition and what you can do if you or someone you know is diagnosed.
1) 6.8 Million People in the United States Are Affected by Alopecia Areata (01)
If you have alopecia, there’s a whole community out there who can relate. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease affecting about 2.1% of the American population. (02) The percentage may seem small, but it isn’t.
Three types of alopecia areata exist:
- Patchy Alopecia Areata is the most common type. It leaves small, round spots on your scalp
- Alopecia Totalis is when people lose all of the hair on their scalps
- Alopecia Universalis occurs when people lose all of the hair on their entire bodies
Alopecia areata can occur with little to no warning in otherwise healthy people. The condition occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing inflammation and hair loss. Usually, the head and face are affected, but people can lose hair from any part of their bodies in small or large patches. Neither doctors nor researchers fully understand the cause, but they believe that genetic and environmental factors are involved.
Alopecia areata is unpredictable, which makes it especially frustrating. Some people are only affected once, while others have recurrences. Hair regrowth is unpredictable as well. Some people can fully regrow their hair, while others cannot. Treatments to help people regrow their hair are available, but unfortunately, there isn’t a cure.
2) Alopecia Areata Has Some Common Symptoms
If you think you may be experiencing alopecia areata, you may see:
- Round patches about the size of a quarter on your scalp or other areas. Keep in mind that everyone is different. The patches may be smaller or larger.
- Hair growing and falling out at the same time in different parts of your body
- Substantial hair loss, quickly
- Asymmetrical hair loss on one side of the scalp rather than on both sides
- Hair that is narrow at the base and next to the scalp that looks like exclamation marks
- Rows of tiny dents in your fingernails
Keep in mind that alopecia areata presents differently in every person. If you lose your hair, it’s difficult to determine how much you will lose or how long the episode will last. Trying to self-diagnose alopecia areata is not recommended if your hair is thinning or balding. Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist and hair specialist to get a professional evaluation and diagnosis.
3) Other Types of Alopecia Can Cause Hair Loss Too
Many conditions can cause hair loss besides alopecia areata. Examples of common types include:
- Telogen Effluvium causes temporary hair loss due to illness or stress.
- Androgenetic Alopecia results when too much testosterone converts to an anagen called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and is the most common cause of baldness and thinning among men and women.
- Traction Alopecia occurs when hair is pulled back too tightly into buns, braids, or ponytails.
- Cicatricial Alopecia (scarring alopecia) occurs when scars form over the hair follicles causing existing hair to fall out and blocking the growth of new hair.
The best thing to do if you notice that your hair is thinning or balding is to consult with a medical professional. He or she can evaluate your case and run any tests necessary to make a diagnosis. In many cases, treatments such as Minoxidil and Finasteride are available to help regrow hair that has been lost.
4) New Medications Are Showing Promise in Treating Alopecia Areata
Some people with alopecia areata experience spontaneous hair regrowth. Others do not. When hair does not regrow on its own, treatment is available.
Exciting progress has been made recently in helping people with alopecia areata regrow their hair. It has recently been discovered that a category of medications called Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors can effectively block the inflammatory response thought to be the cause of alopecia areata, allowing for hair growth. Although JAK inhibitors are often prescribed off-label, one JAK inhibitor was FDA approved in June. Olumiant (Baricitinib), a medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, was approved for adult patients with severe alopecia areata. In clinical trials, the medication helped a significant number of people regrow their scalp hair to 80 percent compared to a placebo. (03)
Other treatments often used to treat alopecia areata include:
- Corticosteroids help calm inflammation and suppress the immune system to prevent further hair loss and allow new growth
- Minoxidil stops hair from thinning and induces hair growth by enlarging the hair follicles
- Topical Immunotherapy can be used to suppress the immune response
- Phototherapy is ultraviolet light therapy sometimes used in conjunction with other treatments
Not every treatment works for every patient. Often, patients need to try different medications to determine which works best for them. Using multiple medications that achieve different objectives is also common. For example, a patient may use Minodixidl with steroid injections and an oral immunosuppresant. It’s also important to know that some patients will need to continue medications, even if their hair has regrown. Discontinuing medication may cause a relapse.
5) You Don’t Have to Leave Your House to Find a Support Group
Coping with alopecia areata is difficult for many people. Stress, anxiety, and depression can easily accompany hair loss. For many people, losing their hair is like losing part of their identity. The grief process takes time. In the meanwhile, a support group may help. Thanks to social media, phones, and Zoom, you don’t even need to leave your sofa to access some services.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) offers support networks, a youth mentor program, and access to a free online community. There are also Facebook groups, including one called Alopecia Areata, one called Alopecia Areata, Find a Cure, and another one for Parents of Children with Alopecia Areata. The networks are a fast, easy way to connect with others who may have had similar experiences.
Although the cause of alopecia areata is still unknown, thanks to alopecia awareness activities, determined patients, and dedicated doctors, great progress is being made in the development of treatment options. If you have any questions about alopecia areata or any other type of hair loss condition, contact us. Our board-certified dermatologists are happy to help point you in the right direction.