Last week, there was a great segment on the “Today” show about a woman named Thea Chassin who has alopecia areata. About 13 years ago, she noticed hair loss in the back of her head. This progressed to total loss of all of her head hair and even her eyelashes and eyebrow hair fell out.
Alopecia areata is a form of hair loss that usually appears on the scalp in small circular patches. It is thought that alopecia areata is a type of autoimmune disease because the body’s own white cells attack the hair follicles in a similar way a virus or bacteria is fought. While it is not a genetic disease, incidence is higher in families. Approximately 4 million men and women are estimated to have alopecia areata.
After involvement with the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, Thea Chassin was inspired to organize another special support group so that no woman would feel alone managing the self-esteem challenges of this condition. She has traveled throughout the country since 2005 organizing over 30 “Bald Girls Do Lunch” events for women to come (with or without wigs) and share their feelings and experiences of hair loss.
Last month I wrote about “Stress and Hair Loss” causing telogen effluvium, which is a form of temporary hair loss. It is thought that stress may also play a role in alopecia areata but in this condition, the hair loss can be permanent or it can resolve then reoccur unpredictably. Total loss of scalp hair is called alopecia totalis. If hair loss occurs all over the body it is termed alopecia universalis.
Treatments for alopecia areata cannot cure the condition but may assist in speeding the return of hair growth. First the area is observed to see if hair does return on its own. If it doesn’t, then steroids can be applied to the hair loss area, but it can take several weeks for hair regrowth to occur and overuse of steroids can lead to thinning of the skin. Minoxidil 5% (Rogaine) and Anthralin (a psoriasis drug) have been successful in regrowing hair and PUXA (photochemotherapy) can be used in more resistant cases.