What is Alopecia?
Alopecia is a general term given to conditions which result in hair loss or baldness. The loss might be patchy, confined to small areas, or result in thinning hair or complete loss of hair on the head, depending on the particular type of alopecia suffered. Typical types of alopecia include male and female pattern hair loss, telogen effluvium, anagen effluvium, and alopecia areata.
What causes it?
The cause of the alopecia depends on the type of condition suffered.
For example, male pattern hair loss is essentially the result of genetic predisposition, whereas telogen effluvium can be caused by pregnancy, fever or deficiencies in the diet. Frontal fibrosing alopecia meanwhile is thought to be an autoimmune condition.
Symptoms and signs
Again, the symptoms will depend on the type of alopecia suffered. Hair might become thin or brittle, or it might start to fall out in patches. Hair loss might be gradual or there could be a sudden onset.
In scarring alopecia (also known as cicatricial alopecia), for example, hair may be lost gradually in small patches, or it may be rapid and accompanied by burning and itching.
There is severe damage and scarring to the follicles in the affected areas, and so hair is lost permanently
The treatment of alopecia will depend entirely on the specific condition. Sometimes no treatment is either advisable or possible.
In other situations, for example male pattern hair loss, some medications may be effective, such as the use of minoxidil, which increases the blood supply to the follicle, or finasteride which helps to prevent the oversupply of the hormone DHT which can damage the follicle and cause hair loss.
Why see a trichologist?
A trichologist will be able to make or confirm a diagnosis of alopecia, and identify what the exact condition is.
The trichologist will then be able to give the patient some advice and reassurance as to the prognosis of the condition and what they should expect in the future.
In some cases, the trichologist will refer the sufferer to a dermatologist.
The charity Alopecia UK provides information and support for sufferers of all kinds of alopecia.
Their website www.alopeciaonline.org.uk has a set of frequently asked questions, and there is also a separate site for children. There also forums on social media that provide advice and support
The American charity National Alopecia Areata Foundation also has a website with useful information www.naaf.org