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Written by Zoe Reynolds

Head of MIS & Compliance, The National College of Education.

Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that causes your hair to come out, often in clumps the size and shape of a quarter. The amount of hair loss is different in everyone. When you have alopecia, cells in your immune system surround and attack your hair follicles (the part of your body that makes hair). This attack on a hair follicle causes the attached hair to fall out. The more hair follicles that your immune system attacks, the more hair loss you will have. Some people lose it only in a few spots. Others lose a lot. Sometimes, hair grows back but falls out again later. In others, hair grows back for good. 

 

Alopecia Symptoms

The main and often the only symptom of alopecia is hair loss. You may notice:

  • Small bald patches on your scalp or other parts of your body
  • Patches may get larger and grow together into a bald spot
  • Hair grows back in one spot and falls out in another
  • You lose a lot of hair over a short time
  • More hair loss in cold weather
  • Fingernails and toenails become red, brittle, and pitted

The bald patches of skin are smooth, with no rash or redness. But you may feel a tingling, itching, or burning sensation on your skin right before the hair falls out.

 

Myth #1: There is only one type of alopecia  

People tend to be under the assumption alopecia is just, well, hair loss. Interestingly enough, alopecia IS the medical term to describe any type of hair loss. However, there are actually several types of alopecia, each affecting different parts of the body and occuring for various reasons. 

 

  • Alopecia Areata Patchy – Causes small, round patches of hair to fall out. Hair loss is usually temporary but can occur continuously over time.
  • Alopecia Areata Totalis – Causes total hair loss on the scalp. This type of hair loss is also temporary.
  • Alopecia Areata Universalis – Loss of hair on the entire body. Depending on the person’s history, this condition may be temporary or permanent.
  • Traction Alopecia – Caused by tight hairstyles and hair pulling. This form of alopecia can be temporary if caught early. If not, continued stress on the scalp can lead to scarring or damage to the hair follicle.
  • Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia/CCCA – CCCA can cause permanent hair loss due to follicle scarring if not caught early. While this form of alopecia is considered more common in middle-aged African American women, anyone can be susceptible.
  • Androgenetic Alopecia – Also known as male or female pattern baldness, this form of alopecia refers to a degeneration of the hairline and is usually permanent. Those who experience Androgenetic Alopecia are most commonly genetically predisposed.
  • Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia – This type of alopecia most frequently affects post menopausal women. With this type, a band of hair loss normally appears on the front and sides of the forehead and typically worsens over time. 

 

Myth #2: It’s Contagious

Alopecia areata is not contagious. A bacteria or virus does not cause it, so there is no method to “transport” it to other people, or even new areas of the body.

 

Myth #3 There is No Treatment

This one is a bit tricky. While many FDA approved medications are being used to treat alopecia, they were approved for other conditions. So, there is no specific treatment for alopecia, but there are still many possibilities that can help.

 

Myth #4: Hair Will Never Grow Back 

Hair growth and fall out are different for everyone. It can regrow spontaneously with or without treatment, then fall out again. There is no way to tell. Some prefer a wig or other product versus medications due to this reason.

 

Myth #5: Alopecia is Genetic

Alopecia is a polygenic disease. It means that both parents must be a contributor to a specific number of genes for a child to develop it. Most parents will not pass it onto their children because of several factors, both environmental and genetic need to trigger it.

 

Frequently asked questions: 

When out in public, naturally curiosity gets the cat and people tend to stare and ask questions, such as… What made you shave your head? Do you have cancer? Doesn’t your head get burnt? 

 

Depending on the individual and how comfortable they are with their alopecia they will often engage back to help spread awareness and educate others. For me personally, if you want to ask me anything please do not feel like you would be offending me.

 

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