Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss especially from the scalp although hair loss from other parts of the body may also occur. Alopecia is also known as alopecia areata signifying hair loss from all over the body. However in most of the cases it is patchy loosely termed as spot baldness. Sometimes it may progress to whole of the scalp known as alopecia totalis. Hair loss may occur due to number of causes namely due to intake of certain drugs, suffering from certain underlying medical conditions, due to hereditary reasons or sometimes without any identifiable causes.
Alopecia may affect any person; men, women and children and also people of every age group suffer from this condition.Although some do not care about it and normally carry out daily routine; for some alopecia can be very much depressing and frustrating. These people seek treatment either drugs or surgical interventions or try to cover up the hair loss with makeup even with scarves and hats.One must consult the doctor regarding the best treatment option for his or her case before deciding on any treatment.
Hair loss can occur in different patterns; in some people hair loss is gradual while in some it is drastic. Again in some it is permanent even with conventional drug treatment and in some it is temporary without any treatment.
Common symptoms of alopecia include
1. Gradual loss of the hair at the top of the scalp: this is the most common pattern of hair loss and affects both males and females. Usually in men the loss of hair takes the pattern of English alphabet “M” (male type of baldness) whereas in females usually there is thinning of hair along the parting of hair.
2. Patchy hair loss: smooth patches of baldness measuring about an inch may appear on the scalps of many people. Sometimes these types of patchy baldness may appear in the beard as well as brow area. Usually these areas are itchy and painful.
3. Generalized sudden hair loss: following any sort of severe mental or physical trauma large amount of hair is lost during washing, combing or after gentle tugging.
4. Hair loss involving the whole body: suffering from certain medical conditions or taking some drugs usually chemotherapy drugs may lead to widespread hair loss involving the whole body surface area.
Under normal circumstances everyday about 50 to 100 hair strands are lost. With a total amount of approximate 100,000 hair strands in the scalp, this amount of hair loss is insignificant. However loss of hair greater than the normal limit leads to thinning of hair and considered as hair loss problem.
There are certain underlying causes; namely
1. Hormone related problems: depending upon the hormonal pattern male and female type of baldness appears. In males male pattern of baldness may start in the puberty. In females hair loss due to hormonal imbalance may occur during pregnancy, following child birth, around menopause (perimenopause) or after menopause (postmenopause).
2. Several medical conditions are known to cause hair loss; these are improper functioning of the thyroid gland, abnormal immune response affecting the hair follicles of one’s own body, certain type of scalp infections like ringworm, suffering from certain skin conditions like lichen planus, lupus etc as there is scar tissue formation destroying the hair follicles of that area particularly.
3. Intake of certain drugs usually prescribed to treat arthritis, cancer, depression, hypertension and other heart diseases,
4. Any sort of shock or severe degree of stress, either physical or emotional or both.
5. A particular psychiatric problem, hair pulling disorder where the affected person suffers from uncontrolled urge to pull hair.
6. Certain hairstyles may lead to hair loss.
Mainly there are three important risk factors like family history of baldness which affect the severity, extent and speed of hair loss, excessive and inappropriate use of hair related cosmetic products like hair coloring agents, hair straighteners etc, and inadequate nutrition may lead to weak hair and gradual loss of hair.
In some people the problem of hair loss is resolved on its own without any intervention. However for others various treatment options are available. These are
1. Drugs: especially if there is an underlying medical condition capable of causing hair loss. Commonly prescribed drugs include minoxidil, finasteride etc. These two drugs are approved by FDA for hair loss
2. Surgical interventions include hair transplant and scalp reduction
People who are not willing to seek any treatment or in whom the above mentioned treatment options are fruitless, wigs are hairpieces can be used.