What is alopecia areata?
Alopecia is a general term for hair loss. Alopecia areata is a specific, common cause of hair loss that can occur at any age. It usually causes small, coin-sized, round patches of baldness on the scalp, although hair elsewhere such as the beard, eyebrows and eyelashes, body and limbs can be affected.
Occasionally it can involve the whole scalp (alopecia totalis) or all the body and scalp (alopecia universalis). It is not possible to predict how much hair will be lost .
Regrowth of hair in typical alopecia areata is usual over a period of months or, sometimes, years, but cannot be guaranteed.
What causes alopecia areata?
Hair is lost because it is rejected by the affected person's immune system which does not recognise the hair follicles as "self", but regards them as "foreign".
Alopecia areata is not catching nor is it related to diet or vitamin deficiencies. Stress, particularly events such as bereavement, separation and accidents, occasionally appears to be a trigger for alopecia areata.
Is alopecia areata hereditary?
There is a genetic predisposition to alopecia areata and close family members can be affected.
Can it be cured?
No. But if the hair loss is patchy, there is a good chance (about 60-80%) that there will be complete regrowth within one year without treatment.
The treatments that are available include:
Steroid creams and scalp applications; steroid tablets; Dithranol cream (also used for psoriasis); contact sensitisation treatment which involves making the patient allergic to a substance and then applying very weak strengths of this chemical to the bald patches; and ultraviolet light treatment.
FAITH HAWLEY Age: 15 Faith, who lives in Crawcrook, Gateshead, is currently studying for her GCSEs. She is being home-schooled after she suffered three years of bullying at her former school. Faith was verbally abused, punched and even had her hair set on fire. She and her GP blame the stress of that experience for her long caramel-coloured hair falling out. She says: "I got my first patch in July when I was 14 and by February the next year, it was completely gone. No one knows whether I'll get it back or not." But Faith, who wants to be a veterinary nurse, has not let the condition hold her back. She models wigs for hairdresser Neville Ramsay and is travelling to London with him for a show next week. Of the BeBold shoot she says: "I absolutely loved it."