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What is Alopecia and why does it occur?

Alopecia (Gr. alopekia fox-mange or a bald spot, from alopex fox) simply means hair loss or baldness. It may be partial or complete, usually on the scalp, but sometimes other places as well.

Normally, we shed 50-100 hairs every day as part of a natural growth, resting and renewal process. When a hair is in the resting stage, it loosens gradually from its root and is shed. A few months later, a new hair begins to grow in its place.

With aging playing a vital role, it is normal for hair to thin in women and men. But many men experience more extensive hair loss due to a hereditary condition called male pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia, which can occur any time after the teen years. Typically, it begins with a slow thinning of all scalp hair; then the hair gradually recedes from the forehead and thins at the crown, eventually leaving just a fringe around the back of the head and over the ears.

Hair follicles in balding areas metabolize androgens, male sex hormones, in a different way than those on other parts of the scalp and body, causing some hair follicles to shrink. Hair growth slows, and eventually the hair dies, resulting in permanent baldness.

Women may experience temporary hair loss from hormonal changes during pregnancy, menopause, or post menopausal hormone therapy. When a woman has female pattern baldness at about the time of menopause, this is due to major shifts in androgen levels, and like male pattern baldness, it tends to be hereditary. Excessive perming, straightening, or hair colouring can also cause excessive hair loss in women and so can wearing a tight pony tail.

Hair loss may occur due to many reasons. Some of these reasons may be confined to the scalp, whereas others reflect some other bodily disease. Some causes are natural, while others signal serious health problems. Being plainly visible, the skin and its components can provide early signs of disease elsewhere in the body.

Conditions affecting the skin of the scalp will often result in hair loss. The first clue to the specific cause is the pattern of hair loss, whether it be complete baldness (alopecia totalis), patchy bald spots, thinning, or hair loss confined to certain areas. Also a factor is the condition of the hair and the scalp beneath it. Sometimes only the hair is affected; sometimes the skin is visibly diseased as well.

The prominent causative/modifying factors of alopecia include the following-

  • Hereditary or developmental (acquired).
  • Infection of the hair follicle (bacterial, fungal etc.).
  • Burns, radiation, chemical injury or mechanical injury.
  • Inflammation of the underlying skin in diseases like syphilis, tuberculosis, herpes zoster.
  • Stress induced: emotional stress, starvation, crash diets, Malaria, Typhoid etc.
  • Thyroid or pituitary disorder.
  • Drug induced - Patients on anti-cancer treatment, anti-thyroid drugs, cholesterol lowering agents and patients on anticoagulant therapy suffer from hair loss.

Various types of alopecia

  1. Androgenetic alopecia is a progressive, diffuse, symmetric loss of scalp hair. In men it begins in the twenties or early thirties with hair loss from the crown and the frontal and temple regions, ultimately leaving only a sparse peripheral rim of scalp hair (male pattern alopecia). In females it begins later, with less severe hair loss in the front area of the scalp. In affected areas, the follicles produce finer and lighter terminal hairs until terminal hair production ceases, with lengthening of the anagen phase and shortening of the telogen phase of hair growth. The cause is unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetic factors (usually from the maternal side) and increased response of hair follicles to androgens.
  2. Alopecia areata is hair loss in sharply defined areas, usually the scalp or beard. Because it causes bald spots on the scalp, especially in the first stages, it is sometimes called spot baldness.
  3. Alopecia capitis totalis denotes loss of all the hair from the scalp.
  4. Cicatricial alopecia is irreversible loss of hair associated with scarring, usually on the scalp.
  5. Congenital alopecia means congenital absence of the scalp hair, which may occur alone or be part of a more widespread disorder.
  6. Alopecia liminaris is hair loss at the hairline along the front and back edges of the scalp.
  7. Moth-eaten alopecia is a kind of syphilitic alopecia involving the scalp and beard, occurring in small, irregular scattered patches. It has a moth-eaten appearance.
  8. Symptomatic alopecia means loss of hair due to systemic or psychogenic causes, such as general ill health, infections of the scalp or skin, nervousness, or a specific disease such as typhoid fever, or to stress. The hair may fall out in patches, or there may be diffuse loss of hair instead of complete baldness in one area.
  9. Alopecia totalis is the term for loss of hair from the entire scalp.
  10. Alopecia universalis denotes loss of hair from the entire body.

How is alopecia areata diagnosed?

The characteristic finding of alopecia areata is a well-circumscribed area or areas of normal hairless skin in an area of normal hair growth. Occasionally, it may be necessary to biopsy the scalp to support the diagnosis.

Other findings that may be helpful are the appearance of short hairs that presumably represent fractured hairs, yellow areas of skin deposition at the follicular orifice, short thin hairs, and grey hair all present in a bald area. Other causes of hair loss are generally excluded from the consideration by history and clinical evaluation. Sometimes, a blood test is necessary.

Tips and tricks for management of alopecia

Hair loss, especially in women, can cause low self-esteem. Many women feel unattractive and embarrassed. Homoeopathy offers treatment solutions to help you feel and look your best.

  1. Practice good hair care. A hairstyle or even the way of washing and drying hair contributes to hair loss. Find out whether your hair care may be leading to your hair loss. Good hair care may head off hair loss.
  2. Some medicines can cause hair loss. Doctors warn that you should not stop taking a medicine that your doctor prescribed if you see hair loss. Immediately stopping some medicines can cause serious side effects. If you think a medicine may be causing hair loss, talk with the doctor who prescribed the medicine. Ask if the medicine could be causing your hair loss. If the medicine seems to be the cause, ask your doctor whether you can take another medicine.
  3. Realize that your hair loss may be temporary. Some things in life cause temporary hair loss. These include illness, childbirth, and stress. During a very stressful time, your body may react by causing more hairs than normal to go into resting phase. The medical term for this condition is telogen effluvium. During telogen effluvium, the body sheds a dramatic amount of hair. For most people, the hair will start to grow again without any help. Treatment for hair loss helps many people feel better.

Conventional Treatment

The damaging emotional effect of significant hair loss for both women and men can be considerable. There are a variety of treatments in allopathic medicine, but none of these can confidently be predicted to impact the course of this disease. Steroid injections, creams, and shampoos such as clobetasol or fluocinonide for the scalp have been used for many years. As with many chronic disorders for which there is no single treatment, a variety of remedies are promoted which in fact have no benefit.

There is no known effective method of prevention, although the elimination of emotional stress is felt to be helpful. Much research remains to be completed on this complex condition. Although not precisely a treatment, the cosmetic camouflage of alopecia areata is certainly a consideration in patient management.

Why homoeopathy?

Homeopathy is one of the most popular holistic systems of medicine. The selection of remedy is based upon strict individualization and symptoms similarity by using holistic approach. This is the only way through which a state of complete health can be regained by removing all the sign and symptoms from which the patient is suffering. The aim of homeopathy is not only to treat alopecia but to address its underlying cause and individual susceptibility.

It is appropriate to state that the auto immune condition of alopecia can be extremely well treated by homeopathy by means of the change in immunity state towards the better. Homeopathy treats the person as a whole. It means that homeopathic treatment focuses on the patient as a person, as well as his pathological condition. The homeopathic medicines are selected after a full individualizing case taking and case-analysis, which includes the medical history of the patient, physical and mental constitution etc.

As far as therapeutic medication is concerned, several well-proved remedies are available for homeopathic treatment of alopecia. Homoeopathic treatment has been shown to significantly control and reduce it, while simultaneously increasing the person’s immunity to external influences. Moreover, once it is treated with homoeopathy, the chances of its recurrence is also highly reduced.

Homoeopathy is the holistic method of treatment that is widely known and accepted to bolster the internal immunity of the person so that the bald patches go away, never to return. Choose

Do’s & Don’ts

  • Recognize signs of stress and identify the causes. At work reduce stress by learning to avoid long hours, not accepting unrealistic demands, setting realistic goals, accepting changes optimistically and not taking work related problems home. At home air your grievances, share your problems and regular weekend breaks with the family.
  • Your diet should be balanced in vitamins, minerals and proteins.
  • Avoid using dyes, bleaching and perming hair.
  • Avoid washing your hair too frequently.
  • Avoid tight hair styles or elastic hair bands. Do not use heated, spiked rollers frequently and never hold the hair dryer too close to the scalp. (atleast 15 cms away) Never use sharp combs or brushes.
  • Never brush or comb when the hair is wet and always use a towel to dry it gently.
  • Avoid over-zealous scalp massage or brushing.