What is Alopecia?
Alopecia is the partial or complete loss of hair, and usually has a gradual onset. It may appear all at once, which is known as diffuse alopecia, or patches of hair may be affected over time. Alopecia is not limited to gender as both men and women are affected by alopecia around the world. Alopecia is a condition that can affect emotional well being, social and even financial stature and influences all aspects of life for many people. Billions of dollars are spent every year by people hoping to halt or reverse their alopecia and the amount people seeking answers and the money that is being spent is growing day by day.
What Causes Alopecia?
Hair loss and hair thinning can be caused by the following factors:
- Genetics – Men and women can have an inherited proclivity towards baldness. This means that hormonal changes that occur with age can cause hair thinning or loss over time. In these instances, not everyone goes fully bald. Some have hereditary genes that do not cause any loss or thinning at all.
- Auto Immune System – Sometimes the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies structures within the hair follicle as foreign invaders, and sends white blood cells to destroy them. This type of alopecia is known as alopecia areata.
- Physical or emotional stress – This is not a genetic cause, but rather an environmental factor that results in hair loss or hair thinning. When an external stressor causes a large amount of shedding or thinning at once, it is known as telogen effluvium. This type of hair thinning and hair loss is reversible once the external factor is identified and removed.
When Should I Contact a Doctor?
You should be sure to contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Your hair loss occurs in an unusual pattern.
- Bald spots in your beard.
- Bald spots on your eyebrows.
- Your hair loss has a rapid onset.
- You are in the younger age bracket and are showing alopecia symptoms.
- You experience any pain or itching associated with the loss of hair.
- Any scalp skin abnormalities such as redness, scaling, acne etc.
- You are a woman and are experiencing male-pattern baldness (MPB).
- You are a woman and are experiencing a sudden onset of facial hair.
- You are a woman and are experiencing menstrual abnormalities.
What Kinds of Questions Might My Doctor Ask?
If you suspect you are suffering from alopecia, the doctor may verify the following:
- If the hair lost is body hair, scalp hair, or a mixture of both.
- If the hair loss is widespread throughout the scalp or concentrated.
- The pattern of hair loss (receding hair line, thinning temple hair, total hair loss, etc.).
- If you have suffered any chronic illnesses which could contribute to the hair loss symptoms.
- Any cosmetic dyes or shampoos that you use to style your hair.
- How often you blow-dry your hair, if at all.
- How often you clean your hair.
- If you have been overstressed as of late.
- If you frequently pull on your hair or scratch your scalp as a coping mechanism.
- If you have itching, flakiness, or redness of the scalp (which could suggest a skin condition known as seborrheic dermatitis).
- What medications you are on, if any.
- What types of herbal supplements you are taking, if any.
- General questions about your overall diet.
These questions may shed light on the cause of your alopecia as well as the level of severity. Be sure to answer these questions to the best of your ability.
My friend Spencer Kobren has a saying that I have always enjoyed but it also represents what I feel is the real potential extent of mental illness that may be attributed to alopecia. Spencer Kobren calls hair loss "a silent epidemic of biblical proportions". When you consider the fact that 2/3 of all men over the age of 35 suffer from some sort of alopecia and 40% of all hair loss sufferers are women, I don't think Spencer is far off the mark with his assessment.
The bottom line is that no matter what form of alopecia one may be suffering from, it is very difficult to deal with. Many people will say that one shouldn't let hair loss bother them but until those people that say such things can experience it for themselves they really have no idea what they are talking about.