Know the basics
What is alopecia?
Alopecia is a disorder that occurs when the amount of hair falls off more than the number that hair grows. In some cases, the hair does not grow further, leading to balding or bald spots. On average, you lose 25 to 100 hairs every day. Alopecia is usually defined as losing more than 100 hairs a day. There are 3 types of alopecia:
- Alopecia areata – patches of hair loss;
- Alopecia totalis – complete loss of scalp hair;
- Alopecia universalis – total loss of all body hair.
Depending on the cause, this condition may be temporary or can last for longer periods of time. Alopecia can cause stress, but it can also be a sign of an underlying disease. Please discuss with your doctor if you condition does not resolve or worsens.
How common is alopecia?
Alopecia can occur in men, women and children. In some people, hair loss can occur after a major life event such as an illness, pregnancy or trauma. Men who are over 50 years old may be affected more often as well as women over 50 years old going through menopause.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of alopecia?
Depending on the cause, alopecia may have various signs and symptoms. Alopecia can occur suddenly or gradually and can be temporary or permanent. It can affect the scalp or even the entire body. Here are some signs and symptoms of alopecia:
- Hair loss of more than 100 hairs a day;
- Sometimes there may be a burning or itching sensation;
- Patches where hair has fallen out are usually smooth, round shape and peach colored;
- Alopecia areata: the patch can be circular. Usually, hair loss affects the scalp, but in some cases, beard or eyebrows may also be affected.
- Alopecia totalis: Hair can fall easily when you comb the hair. This type of hair loss usually causes thinning of the hair.
Alopecia universalis: cancer chemotherapy can cause alopecia; hair usually grows back after a period of interruption.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
You should see your doctor if your condition does not improve or is getting worse. Sudden alopecia may be a sign of an underlying condition that requires treatment. Therefore, finding the cause is more important than finding treatments. Please inform your doctor if you notice more hair loss when combing or washing your hair normally.
Know the causes
What causes alopecia?
The exact cause of alopecia is still unknown. However, many medical experts believe that alopecia may be related to the following factors:
- Family history: If your family members who suffer from alopecia, you will also have a very high risk of this condition. Family history will also determine the age of your alopecia, alopecia and the possibility of progression of this condition.
- Hormones: changes and hormone imbalances can cause temporary alopecia. This includes hormone changes due to pregnancy, childbirth or about to enter menopause. The thyroid gland can also affect hormone levels, which causes alopecia.
- Skin conditions: scalp infections or skin diseases such as lupus, lichen planus may cause hair loss.
- Drug-induced: drugs that treat cancer, arthritis, depression, heart disease and hypertension can cause alopecia. Birth control pills and excessive use of vitamin A can also cause alopecia.
- Hair pulling disorder: also known as trichotillomania, causes people to have an urge to pull hair on the scalp, eyebrow or other parts of the body.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for alopecia?
There are many risks factors for alopecia, such as:
- Family history: having a family member affected by alopecia can increase your risk for alopecia.
- Age: increasing age, the greater the risk of hair loss.
- Poor nutrition. Hair can become brittle and weak fall when you lack proper nutrients.
- A certain number of illnesses can increase your risk, such as diabetes, lupus erythematosus.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is alopecia diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose alopecia by reviewing your family medical history and laboratory tests such as:
- Blood tests: blood tests help doctors diagnose the disease can cause hair loss, such as thyroid problems.
- Scalp biopsy: the doctor will take a small piece of skin and scalp hair pins to check.
How is alopecia treated?
The method of alopecia treatment may include medication, surgery, laser therapy, or wigs. Doctors may appoint and instruct you to use one or a combination of methods in order to produce results the most effective treatment.
- Drug therapy: two drugs most commonly used to treat hair loss are minoxidil (Rogaine®) and finasteride (Propecia®). Minoxidil can be a liquid or foam solution. This is usually applied to the scalp twice a day. Minoxidil helps prevent hair loss and help hair grow back. Finasteride is taken orally and is only prescribed for use in men.
- Surgery: Doctors may have to conduct surgery if you have permanent hair loss. This is usually done to implant and restore hair on the scalp. However, this method is often costly and can cause pain.
- Laser therapy: Laser therapy can help patients reduce hair loss and help hair grow back thicker.
- Use a wig: if the other treatments are not effective, using a wig is an alternative safe option.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage alopecia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with alopecia:
- Be gentle when washing or brushing your hair.
- Avoid tight hairstyles such as ponytails, buns and braids.
- Eat a nutritionally balanced diet.
- Avoid twisting, pulling, rubbing your hair.
- Limit your hair dry with a towel. Let hair dry and pat dry.
- Use a wide tooth comb to comb the hair, avoid hair comb when hair is wet.
- Use hair conditioner to smooth, easy to comb over.
- Tell your doctor if you have signs of infection after steroid use. These signs include: redness, swelling, tenderness and burning at the injection site.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 69
Alopecia areata. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001450.htm. Assessed July 11, 2016.
Hair loss.http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hair-loss/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20027666. Assessed July 11, 2016.
Hair loss. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Hair-loss/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Assessed July 11, 2016.