Human hair significantly contributes to the physical appearance and attractiveness of a person. Hence, hair health disorders like pattern baldness, anagen effluvium (chemotherapy-induced baldness), Alopecia Areata, amongst others, may easily trigger psychological stress.
What is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia Areata is a health disorder that leads to the loss of hair patches in the scalp, face, and other parts of the body. The health disorder, also known as Jonston’s Alopecia, may lead to the loss of all the hair on the scalp (Alopecia totalis) and, in some cases, a complete loss of hair all over the body (Alopecia universalist).
Alopecia Areata, which is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, is usually a temporary ailment that leaves the hair follicle dormant and unable to produce hair (1). Therefore, it has no preventive treatment available yet. However, to mitigate its effects, certain medications such as Minoxidil may be administered to the patient for treatment.
To understand Alopecia Areata better, we need to evaluate its causes and symptoms quickly.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
Further studies to discover the causes of this disorder are still ongoing. However, it has been concluded that
- Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disease caused by an immune system’s attack on the hair follicle that signals it to stop producing hair.
- A breach in a phenomenon known as “immune privilege” (the security of hair follicles from the immune system) is believed to cause Alopecia Areata.
- Research has revealed that genetics plays a major role in this disorder. Close to 40% of Alopecia Areata patients who are 30 years and below have at least a family member with the same disorder (2).
- Patients with other autoimmune diseases like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, anemia, hay fever, and asthma: are believed to have a high risk of developing Alopecia Areata.
Alopecia Areata is not contagious.
Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
- The first and most pronounced symptom is the loss of hair in chimps. When Alopecia Areata sets in, oval patching of baldness, usually the size of a coin, would develop on the scalp.
- This is usually followed by a slight burning sensation, mild itching, and tenderness in the new-bald area.
- Anomalies in the surface of the fingernails like dents, superficial splitting, redness, and grooves have been noticed by some patients (3).
Two extreme cases of Alopecia Areata known as Alopecia totalis and universalist are severe symptoms of which less than 10% of the latter’s patients recover.
Diagnosis of Alopecia Areata
Physical observation of hair loss in patches is usually the first indication of Alopecia Areata. Then, a doctor may diagnose it through a physical or laboratory examination.
1. Physical Examination:
A physical examination like an inspection of the hair roots and pulling on the hairs close to the area of the hair loss may be carried out. This test to determine how easily they come out would easily reveal if it is Alopecia Areata or not.
This technology uses many-fold magnification for scalp evaluation. In addition, it may be used in laboratory diagnosis (4).
This is another diagnosis option. It is carried out by removing a piece of skin in the affected area for laboratory examination.
Treatment of Alopecia Areata
The breach in immune privilege that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicle has an unknown cause. However, one common thing among every patient is the hope that it stops as soon as possible.
Alopecia Areata usually affects a small region of the scalp that may be easily concealed by a change in hairdo or the use of wigs until the hair starts growing again. In cases where the condition affects a larger region, and the patient is concerned about cosmetically restoring hair growth, certain medications may be prescribed to stop the immune system attack on the hair follicle or sporadically stimulate hair growth.
With factors that range from the type of Alopecia Areata (patchy, totalis, or universalis) to the extent of hair loss and finally age, the treatment options available include:
- Corticosteroids injection: Corticosteroids suppress the immune system. This is injected with a tiny needle into the bare patches of skin.
- Oral corticosteroids: This is in pill form and is often prescribed only to patients with extensive hair loss.
- Topical corticy: This is prepared in different ways; as a solution, foam, ointment, or lotion (5).
Topical Minoxidil, amongst others.
What is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil is a United States Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved medication for controlling hair loss. It functions by enlarging hair follicles and allows them access to more resources like blood, oxygen, and nutrients they require to grow.
How is Minoxidil used in the treatment of Alopecia Areata?
Minoxidil which also exists in the tablet form, has an over-the-counter foam and topical liquid preparation used to treat bald spots. An expert’s prescription is recommended for use. However, one or two applications a day for standard use may help stimulate hair growth in the target areas. In addition, minoxidil which exists in the 1,2, and 5 percent solutions, has proven to be more effective for treating Alopecia Areata when supplemented with topical corticosteroids (6).
Side effects of Minoxidil
Although topical application of minoxidil is generally considered safe, there are some associated side effects. Some of which include:
- Irritation at the treated area
- Itching of the eye
- Unwanted hair growth in other parts of the body
- Dandruff (7)
How effective is Minoxidil for Alopecia Areata?
Minoxidil is a potential treatment for hair loss. However, hair loss may be caused by very diverging factors. Hence, the need to question how effective minoxidil is for treating this particular health disorder-induced hair loss – Alopecia Areata.
Results from scientific research revealed that Minoxidil has the following effects on Alopecia Areata patients:
- 38-81 percent of patients with hair loss as extensive as 75% of the entire scalp area were recorded to respond to minoxidil treatment
- The 2% formulation of Minoxidil could significantly assuage patchy Alopecia.
- Allergic contact dermatitis (skin rash) could be developed by 3% or more of minoxidil administered patients.
- Initial regrowth was observed within 12 weeks of Minoxidil application to the hair loss area.
- Severe Alopecia Areata patients usually experience hair loss (the manufacturer refers to it as shedding) during the early stages of treatment and after it was discontinued.
- An analysis with the 5% Minoxidil vs. Placebo (a gimmick treatment that doesn’t contain any substance meant to affect health) revealed a significant difference supporting the former (8).
With the results of this research conducted to understand the effect of Minoxidil on Alopecia Areata, it may be concluded that as much as Alopecia Areata has no preventive treatment, Minoxidil may help restore hair growth in the bald areas of Patchy Alopecia Areata patients hair (9). However, the two severe cases of Alopecia usually process immune to Minoxidil with a negligible impact recorded by Alopecia Universalis patients who resorted to it.
Alopecia Areata which affects over 6.8 million people in the US and 1 in every 500 UK citizens is a dreadful disorder. Moreso, because of its resistance to every attempted preventive treatment, it is of great concern. The natural regrowth of hair in the bald areas which in the best-case scenario, may take 6-12 months and is not a viable option for many. Sequel to this, some hair restoration options were developed and the use of Minoxidil is one of them. Minoxidil which is an FDA and Health Canada approved drug for the treatment of hair loss has been extensively used for the treatment of Alopecia Areata, especially at the less severe stage. This drug which enlarges hair follicles and allows them better access to growth-facilitating resources like blood, oxygen, and nutrients is an effective treatment for Alopecia Areata.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Alopecia Areata contagious?
No, it is not a contagious ailment.
Is Alopecia Areata inheritable?
20 percent of Alopecia patients have at least one more member of their immediate family who is also a patient. Like other immune system disorders, it is believed that Alopecia Areata is hereditary.
Are their preventive precautionary measures?
Unfortunately, no. Alopecia Areata is an unpredictable ailment that can’t be avoided by taking precautionary measures.
What can an Alopecia Areata patient do to lead a good life?
Alopecia Areata is unpredictable, so many people who have it are unprepared for its physical and psychological involvements. To keep enjoying life, a patient can
a) Source for information about the disorder and possible treatment options
b) Go for medical treatment or leave it to hopefully stop after six or more months
c) Avoid self-pity of any type
d) Consider changing your hairdo or getting an attractive wig
e) Avoid stress and other things that could destabilize mental health
Which foods should be avoided by an Alopecia Areata patient?
Foods that could spur an inflammatory reaction are advised to be avoided.
How long does hair loss last?
In 50% of Alopecia Areata patients, an episode of hair loss lasts less than a year, after which hair grows back without treatment. However, it could last a lifetime.
How do you naturally stop the spread of Alopecia Areata?
Some natural foods and activities have been discovered as being inimical to the spread of Alopecia Areata. These solutions include hypnosis, aromatherapy, acupuncture, the use of garlic, onions, and red ginseng.
Can Alopecia Areata be a symptom of another ailment?
It is usually an independent disorder and not a symptom of another underlying sickness. Nevertheless, the underactive thyroid gland, lupus, and other ailments could cause it.
How effective is Minoxidil?
Minoxidil works for 2 out of 3 patients enduring hair loss. It is most effective on people under the age of 40.
Can Minoxidil revive dead cells?
Yes. Regular application of minoxidil to the scalp may help reactivate the dead cell follicle.
Who should not use Minoxidil?
Individuals below 18 years are not permitted to use Minoxidil. Also, elderly people may experience an increased weather sensitivity after using it.
- “Alopecia areata” – wikipedia.org
- “Alopecia Areata” – health.harvard.edu
- “What you need to know about alopecia areata” – naaf.org
- “Trichoscopy” – wikipedia.org
- “Treatments for Alopecia Areata” – naaf.org
- “What is minoxidil and how can it help thinning hair?” – webmd.com
- “MINOXIDIL TOPICAL” – rxlist.com
- “Minoxidil for patchy alopecia areata: systematic review and meta‐analysis” – wiley.com
- “Topical minoxidil solution (1% and 5%) in the treatment of alopecia areata” – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov