Tue | Jul 16, 2019

Oh my hair: Battling alopecia areata

Published:Monday | July 1, 2019 | 12:13 AMJessica Harrison - Lifestyle Writer

Losing your hair before 30 years old can be a tough situation to be in. All your friends are wearing their Afro puffs and you, well, you’re stuck with only certain hairstyles to hide the patches of hair loss plaguing your life. If you or anyone you know is suffering from alopecia areata, or you simply want to educate yourself, here are the facts.

So what is alopecia areata? It is the complete or partial absence of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows, i.e., baldness. According to Dr Ivan Rawl Williams, there are two kinds of alopecia areata: hair loss from the scalp, classified as alopecia totalis, and in extreme cases, when the hair disappears from the entire body, it is called alopecia universalis.

When asked what causes alopecia areata, Williams quickly explained: “In simple terms, the white blood cells attack the cells in the hair follicles and that causes the follicles to shrink and dramatically slow down the production of hairs,” he said.

While scientists are not 100 per cent sure why this happens, they think that genetics may be involved as alopecia areata is more likely to happen to a person whose close family member is also plagued by the disease.

SYMPTOMS

Perhaps you’ve been experiencing some hair loss and think you may have alopecia areata, but Williams says there are quite a few factors involved and one should not proceed to self-diagnose or rely on Google for confirmation.

“So as we know, the most prevalent symptom of alopecia areata is patchy hair loss about the size of a coin. Hair usually starts falling out from the scalp first, but other areas such as the beard and eyelashes may be affected,” he said.

The process of hair loss can either be sudden or occurring over the period of a few weeks, and there may be a bit of itching or burning in the area before the hair eventually falls out. However, you need not worry as hair follicles are not usually destroyed, so as soon as the follicle inflammation has subsided, the hair will begin to regrow.

Alopecia areata may also affect the nails? Yes, the nails. Williams said sufferers of the disease may notice one or more of the following nail conditions: loss of nail shine, split and thinning, rough nails, along with the appearance of white lines and spots.

CURE, TREATMENT OR BOTH?

While there is no cure for alopecia areata , treatment can be administered to aid in the process of hair regrowth. Some people suggest home remedies such as rubbing garlic juice, coconut milk, almond or rosemary oil to the scalp, but Williams suggests prescription drugs such as Rogain.

Alopecia areata does not make people feel sick and it is not contagious, but people may suffer from emotional distress and find it difficult to adapt. Perhaps you can find solace in counselling or just by surrounding yourself with people who love and appreciate you, no matter what you look like.

jessica.harrison@gleanerjm.com