Alopecia is also known as alopecia areata in medical terms. In simple terms alopecia areata is a condition of hair loss. It is a disease characterized by hair loss which occurs in bald patches on the scalp. The areas of hair loss are usually random and can involve hairs in any part of the body. The common body parts affected by this condition are eyebrows, eyelashes and the scalp. Alopecia areata is a disease of the hair follicles. Hair follicles are a part of the skin from which the hair grows. This disease can affect men, women and children of any age.
In most cases, hair falls out in small, round patches about the size of a coin. Many people with the disease get only a few bare patches. Some people may lose more hair. Rarely, the disease causes total loss of hair on the head or complete loss of hair on the head, face, and body.
When there is total hair loss on the scalp then the condition is known as alopecia totalis. In cases when there is complete loss of body hair, the condition is known as alopecia universalis.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are those diseases in which the immune system of the body, whose main function is providing protection to the body cells, starts attacking the body cells. The immune system can mistakenly attack any part of the body. In the case of alopecia areata the immune system starts attacking the hair follicles. This results in hair loss.
What causes alopecia areata is still a mystery. Some scientists have linked the disease to a genetic tendency. Some scientists have identified certain trigger factors such as viral infections and stress. But the exact cause of alopecia areata is not yet known.
Normal hair loss should not be mistaken for alopecia areata. It is quite normal to lose 100 to 150 hairs daily as part of the normal cycle of hair shedding. Some people may lose more hair as a result of excessive brushing of hair or having a hot shower. If the hair loss is excessive and in bald patches then you should consult your health care professional. Hair loss may also be a symptom of other conditions such as hormonal changes or in thyroid disorders.
Many shampoos and hair care treatments claiming to cure alopecia areata, are available in the market. It is very important to seek the advice of your family doctor and dermatologist before using any such treatment.
Since alopecia areata is a disease of hair loss and is directly related to the appearance of the individual, losing a significant amount of hair can affect the confidence and self esteem of a person. There are many support groups available for alopecia areta where people share their experiences and discuss treatments and coping skills. These support groups are usually very useful and provide excellent support for people affected by this condition. They conduct seminars and conferences for people suffering from alopecia areata and also for their families.