Alopecia Understood: 5 Types of Hair Loss Explained
What are the different types of alopecia or hair loss? How do they develop, what are the effects and can each type of hair loss be treated? Amy Johnson of charity Alopecia UK explains to The Best of Health all you need to know about the five main types of hair loss.
Alopecia simply means ‘hair loss’. There are different types of alopecia but when people talk generally about someone having alopecia, they tend to be referring to someone with alopecia areata. However, there are other types too. This article will highlight the main five types of hair loss.
Alopecia areata is believed to be an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out. Alopecia areata is often first identified with a single small bald patch. For many, their alopecia will remain in the patchy “areata” form, but, for some, the hair loss will continue to the more aggressive versions of the condition. This is called alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. Totalis is the label provided to alopecia areata which develops to the point of total hair loss from the entire scalp. Universalis is the name given to cases where total hair loss occurs from the entire body, including eyebrows, eyelashes and body hair.
The exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown, but it is widely believed that there is a genetic component and that sufferers of the condition experience a trigger. Those with the condition have many different theories as to what triggers their alopecia. Stress is often cited as a possible cause. However, over the years the media have been quick to label alopecia areata a stress condition, but not all sufferers can link the start of their hair loss with a stressful event.
There is actually no known cure for alopecia areata and there is no evidence that the medical treatments available will definitely help. Alopecia areata is also extremely unpredictable. Some may experience regrowth, others will not. While some people may have patches, others will have total hair loss. It is not possible to tell at the point of diagnosis how advanced the hair loss will become, but it is understood the more aggressive the hair loss, the less the likelihood of regrowth.
Sometimes referred to as male or female pattern baldness, androgenetic, or androgenic, alopecia is the most common type of hair loss. In males it follows the pattern of a receding hairline, followed by the thinning of the hair on the crown and temples. In females, however, it tends to only thin on top of the head. Androgenetic Alopecia is thought to be a hereditary form of hair loss. Treatment is available but is not guaranteed to work.
Also called cicatricial alopecias, scarring alopecias are rarer forms of alopecia, responsible for the total destruction of hair follicles. The follicles are replaced with scar tissue causing permanent hair loss. Scarring alopecia can be treated but due to the fact that hair loss is permanent, it’s important to begin treatment as soon as possible before extensive hair is lost. Unlike other types of alopecia, scarring alopecia is often diagnosed via a biopsy.
Traction alopecia occurs as a result of excessive pulling or tension on hair shafts as a result of certain hair styles or hair extensions. If prolonged, it can damage the hair follicles enough to cause permanent damage.
Telogen effluvium occurs when a person experiences more hair loss than is normal. It is normal for some hair to be in the shedding (telogen) phase. Usually, only 10% of the scalp hair is in the telogen phase, but in cases of telogen effluvium this increases to 30% or more. Telogen effluvium usually resolves itself without any treatment.
Regardless of the type of alopecia diagnosed, hair loss can be an extremely challenging and upsetting to deal with. Both men and women are affected at all ages. Many struggle to adapt to their new appearance and they can find the psychological impact of hair loss very difficult to cope with. Alopecia UK provides information, support and advice to people struggling with hair loss. You can read more on the charity’s website at: www.alopecia.org.uk
Amy Johnson is the communications manager for Alopecia UK