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Alopecia Areata, Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Complications

Alopecia areata is a hair loss caused by an attack on the body's own immune system (autoimmune) on the follicles. This condition generally occurs on the scalp, although it can also occur in other body parts overgrown with hair, such as eyebrows, mustaches, and eyelashes. Besides round pattern baldness, alopecia areata can also cause overall baldness.

Alopecia areata can be suffered by anyone, both men and women, in all ages. But generally, this condition is more experienced by people aged 20 years and under. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system that is in charge of protecting the body from attacks by viruses or bacteria actually makes a mistake by attacking the body itself. In this case, the hair follicle is attacked. As a result, the hair follicles which are where the hair grows become smaller and then stop producing hair, causing baldness.

Alopecia Areata Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Complications

Symptoms of Alopecia Areata

The main symptom shown by alopecia areata is round patterned baldness. This baldness can occur in one or several places that were previously overgrown with hair. Sometimes, new hair appears on the edge of the bald area. But the hair shaft is thinner in its base, so it looks like an exclamation point. In some patients with alopecia areata, baldness can extend to the entire scalp (alopecia totalis). Although it is rare, baldness can also occur throughout the body so that it does not leave a single strand of hair (alopecia universalis). Sometimes, hair can grow back after a few months, but with a thinner and white texture, different from the previous hair. However, in about 10 percent of patients with alopecia areata, baldness is permanent and the hair will not grow back,

In addition to the scalp and other body parts that are overgrown with hair, alopecia areata can also be characterized by disturbances in the fingernails and toes, in the form of curved nails and white lines with a thin and rough surface. Sometimes nails can change shape or split, although this is very rare.

Causes and Risk Factors of Alopecia Areata

The cause of an autoimmune disorder in the case of alopecia areata is unknown but is thought to be triggered by a viral infection, trauma, hormonal changes, and physical or psychological stress. Alopecia areata sufferers are also found in people who suffer from other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.

Alopecia Areata diagnosis

Alopecia areata can be diagnosed by a doctor by examining the condition of the hair, especially the loss that occurs. To strengthen the diagnosis, the investigation can be done through analysis of the scalp sample using a microscope. This check aims to ascertain the cause of hair loss. If there is a strong suspicion that the patient has an autoimmune disease, the doctor can recommend a blood test to check for abnormal antibodies, such as antinuclear antibodies (ANA). Other blood tests can also help doctors find out other causes of baldness, such as levels of C-reactive protein, iron, thyroid hormone, testosterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Alopecia Areata treatment

There is no treatment that can cure alopecia areata, and sometimes the hair can grow back on its own. However, certain drugs can be used to stimulate back hair grow more quickly. Medicines that can be given include:

  • Minoxidil. This topical drug can stimulate hair growth again by applying it to the scalp, beard or bald area twice a day. New hair growth can be seen three months after using this drug.
  • Corticosteroids. Corticosteroids will suppress the immune system and are available in the form of injecting, topical, and drinking drugs. Corticosteroid injections are given to the skin that has baldness every 3-6 weeks. New hair will grow about one month after the last injection. Giving corticosteroid injections is considered more effective than topical corticosteroid use. Giving topical corticosteroids may be appropriate for children, who are usually afraid of syringes. While the consumption of corticosteroid pills is intended for patients with extensive and large areas of baldness. However, long-term consumption of corticosteroids risks serious side effects.
  • Anthralin. Just like corticosteroids, this drug will affect the immune system of the skin. After being applied and allowed to stand for a maximum of one hour, Anthralin must be washed thoroughly so the skin does not experience irritation.
  • Diphencyprone (DPCP). This drug is used by being applied to areas that experience alopecia areata and will cause allergic reactions such as redness, swelling, and itching in areas with baldness. The appearance of an allergic reaction is the expected effect of using this drug and is intended to divert the body's defense system to fight inflammation caused by allergies, instead of attacking the hair follicles.

Although not dangerous, sometimes alopecia areata can cause discomfort in bald skin. Applying sunscreen and using a wig or hat can protect the scalp from baldness from the sun. The use of false glasses and eyelashes is also recommended for patients who experience alopecia areata on the eyelashes, this is to protect the eyes from dust.
Complications of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is not a disease that can cause serious conditions. Alopecia areata also cannot be transmitted to other people and bald hair can grow back on its own in a few months. But in about 10% of sufferers, baldness that occurs is permanent.
People with alopecia areata have a greater risk of suffering or having a family with asthma, allergies and other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease and vitiligo.
Some people with alopecia areata can be emotionally disturbed because they think baldness makes them unattractive. This situation can lead to depression. Support from the closest person is important to help sufferers adapt to this condition.
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