As we get older, it’s not uncommon to lose some of our hair. Indeed, according to the American Hair Loss Association, approximately two-thirds of U.S. men undergo some hair loss by the time they’re 35 years old, and women account for 40% of Americans who lose hair during their lifetime.
Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss of any kind. Because of this, there are many types of alopecia, each distinguished by their causes, ancillary symptoms, and physical presentation.
The most common form of hair loss is male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. But when doctors mention alopecia, they’re often referring to alopecia areata, a fairly common autoimmune disease that causes excessive hair loss in patches, usually on the scalp.
Here, we will mainly focus on alopecia areata, its causes, and what you can do about it.
Medical researchers have yet to discover the exact cause of alopecia areata, though they believe it is related to a malfunctioning immune system. Autoimmune disorders describe when one’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells. So, alopecia areata occurs when one’s immune system targets hair follicles, stunting or preventing their growth. Immune dysfunction can also lead to other health concerns such as vitiligo and arthritis.
As for what triggers a faulty immune response in the first place, the answers vary and remain unclear in some cases. Genetics seem to play a role, though. Those with family histories of autoimmune diseases, and excessive hair loss, in particular, are at greater risk of developing alopecia areata at some point.
How Can You Treat Excessive Hair Loss?
While there is currently no cure for alopecia, treatments for excessive hair loss are available and constantly improving. Let’s explore some of the most effective hair loss treatments, as well as ways to mask or mitigate the effects of alopecia.
Because alopecia areata results from a weak or malfunctioning immune system, treating one’s immune system can help prevent further hair loss and even help hair grow back. This type of treatment is known as immunotherapy.
For alopecia areata, topical immunotherapy (medication applied to the skin) is usually recommended. These medications, such as diphencyprone (DPCP), dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB), and squaric acid dibutyl ester (SADBE), are applied as directed to the areas where hair has fallen away (typically the scalp). Doing so triggers an allergic rash in an attempt to change the immune system’s response for the better.
Other forms of immunotherapy alopecia treatment, such as oral immunomodulatory drugs, are also in development.
Corticosteroids are the most commonly prescribed hair loss treatment because side effects are rare and typically mild. These drugs, which can be injected, taken orally, or applied topically, reduce inflammation for a number of autoimmune disorders. It usually takes a while for their effects to kick in, especially when compared to immunotherapy treatments. However, corticosteroids can stimulate visible new hair growth in a matter of weeks.
Unfortunately, no current hair loss treatment method prevents hair loss in untreated areas.
Both immunotherapy and corticosteroids can mitigate hair loss and encourage new growth. However, some patients might not see the results they’re looking for with these treatments. Those with other forms of alopecia, such as male pattern baldness, might seek other ways to restore their head of hair.
Minoxidil, better known by its brand name Rogaine, can restore hair on the scalp, eyebrows, and beard areas in some patients, but results can vary widely. Plus, Minoxidil is not very effective for treating excessive hair loss such as alopecia areata. It can, however, be combined with immunotherapy or corticosteroids for improved results.
Dealing with excessive hair loss can be emotionally stressful on its own. However, reducing stress levels and maintaining good health overall can possibly mitigate some of alopecia’s effects and keep more of your hair on your body. If nothing else, harboring high stress levels may aggravate your condition, resulting in further hair loss. So, it’s important to take care of your emotional and physical health.
For more information about alopecia and what you can do to stave off hair loss, reach out to the experts at Southeast Dermatology Specialists. Contact us to ask us questions and learn more about our services and providers.