Alopecia areata is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that results in damage to the hair follicles. The result is excessive hair loss and the formation of characteristic bald areas, most often on the head, but often also in other areas of the body.
Alopecia areata affects women and men equally. It most often occurs in young people between the ages of 20 and 30, but the onset of the disease can occur as early as childhood.
There are several other types of alopecia areata, including
- total alopecia areata, which manifests as complete loss of hair on the head,
- focal alopecia, in which inflammatory patches form on one part of the body,
- generalised alopecia, where the absence of hair follicles occurs throughout the body. The causes of the condition are not fully known, but it is considered to be autoimmune in origin. This means that the body treats the hair follicles as ‘foreign’ and begins to attack them. The follicles become inflamed and damaged, resulting in the aforementioned alopecia areata.
Stress is one of the factors exacerbating alopecia areata. Many doctors classify alopecia areata as a psychodermatological condition. This means that excessive hair loss can be the result of exhausting emotional states. Stress is not only conducive to alopecia areata, but also to ‘normal’ excessive hair loss, and this is true for both men and women. In this case, however, there is a thinning of the hair rather than the formation of bare, hairless patches.
It is important to emphasise that there is no single effective form of treatment for alopecia areata. New treatment methods are individually selected according to the patient, his or her age, the type of alopecia and the severity of the disease.
The medications that are most often recommended are primarily aimed at blocking the attack on the body by the immune system and also stimulate hair regrowth. Medications that show immunosuppressive effects are therefore usually used, i.e. glucocorticosteroids, cyclosporine and calcineurin derivatives, among others.
A drug that can be administered together with glucocorticosteroids or alone is minoxidil solution. This is rubbed into the scalp once or twice a day and is designed to stimulate the roots to grow. However, there are sometimes side effects here in the form of peeling and redness of the skin.
In some cases, the doctor may prescribe irritant preparations for alopecia areata, which consequently improve blood circulation and can stimulate hair growth in the follicles.