Alopecia affects millions of people around the world. Despite this, there is very little education on the matter. And although lot of us still see it as just losing one’s hair, it is so much more than that. In fact, alopecia doesn’t just affect one’s physical appearance – it also impacts their self-image and mental health. If you suspect you have alopecia or have a loved one who’s been diagnosed with it, we’ve put together a guide that will provide you with all that you may need to understand this condition and its effects.
Alopecia Is An Autoimmune, Chronic Inflammatory Disease
There is no known root cause of alopecia. That said, there is some evidence that links it to severe stress and genetics.1
Although classified as an autoimmune condition, alopecia is more specifically a chronic inflammatory disease. What it does is trick your immune system into thinking that your hair follicles are a foreign body that is attacking you. This causes the immune system to become defensive and attack them, causing the hair to fall out. It can affect men, women, and children, and can start at any age.
There are three types of alopecia, each of which varies in terms of severity. We’ve listed them below, from the mildest to the most severe:
- Alopecia Areata: Partial baldness of the head, general patchiness of hair.
- Alopecia Totalis: Total baldness and loss of hair on the head.
- Alopecia Universalis: Total baldness and loss of hair across the entire body.
The condition does not cause any pain, although there may be some redness and irritation around the affected areas.2
Alopecia Leads To Depression, Anxiety, And Loss Of Appetite
Alopecia has been known to cause depression and anxiety in those who suffer from the condition. It is also common for this disorder to lower confidence levels and diminish self-worth because of the way in which it can drastically change your appearance. Some patients report feeling like they can no longer recognize themselves in the mirror. As a result, some may avoid doing the things they love. Alopecia patients may:
- Avoid going outside
- Avoid exercising and socializing
- Over or under eat
- Avoid seeing a doctor
- Have poor performance at work
These effects can be severe, but many have found that seeing a therapist and talking through their feelings – either in a group or private setting – has really helped them come to terms with their diagnosis and the way in which it has changed their lives. Experts have also recognized that it’s important to nip things in the bud as soon as symptoms first appear. It can make treatment and recovery a lot easier for you, or for those you know that have been recently diagnosed. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and getting treatment in the form of medication or counseling early on, can really help you to rebuild your self-image.3 4
Alopecia Has No Cure But Its Complications Can Be Managed
No treatments are available for alopecia patients under the age of 16. This is due to the fact that they are still growing (and quickly) and the fact that puberty brings with it a host of changes.
Although there’s been promising stem-cell research, alopecia has no cure, at least not at the moment. Sometimes, alopecia may go into remission, and hair may fully or partially grow back. However, this is not always the case.5
There are some treatments available, but the results vary from person to person and are not always accurate or reliable. So, if you choose these don’t go in feeling too hopeful, or you may end up feeling disheartened if they don’t work for you. The best treatment, truthfully, is seeing a therapist or going to counseling sessions with a group. At least until stem-cell treatment becomes more of a mainstream option.
Whether it is you, or someone you know, that suffers from the condition, it is so important to learn as much as you can and remain educated on the topic. If you want to learn more about alopecia, as well as the emotional impact, you can read our detailed and researched guide.
|↑1||Alopecia (Hair Loss). University Of Columbia Medical Center.|
|↑2||Qi, Ji, and Luis A. Garza. “An overview of alopecias.” Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine 4, no. 3 (2014): a013615.|
|↑3||Golpour, Masoud, Seyed Hamzeh Hosseini, Mohammad Khademloo, and Houshang Mokhmi. “Mental health and suicidal ideation in patients with dermatologic disorders.” World Applied Sciences Journal 11, no. 5 (2010): 573-77.|
|↑4||Disease’s Emotional Scars. UConn Health.|
|↑5||Alopecia Areata. Harvard Health Publishing.|