Coping with alopecia

Hair loss, or alopecia, can be a worrying condition that, in some cases, can affect self-confidence and even lead to depression. If you are concerned about the condition or are struggling to cope, here are the facts about the different types of hair loss, what treatment is available, and how to deal with the condition emotionally.


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Types of hair loss
The most common type of hair loss is male-pattern baldness. It usually follows a pattern of a receding hairline, then thinning of the hair on the crown and at the temples. It often runs in the family, and can occur in women (female-pattern baldness).

Alopecia areata is when bald patches come and go, a condition thought to be caused by immune system problems. This type of hair loss usually affects teenagers and young adults, with six out of 10 sufferers developing their first bald patch before the age of 20. In many cases the hair grows back after about 12 months.

Scarring alopecia is a condition that can arise as a complication of another condition, such as lichen planus (an itchy rash affecting much of the body), or discoid lupus. Here the hair follicle is destroyed, making regrowth impossible.

Anagen effluvium is when hair is lost not just from the scalp but from the face and body also, and it is commonly caused by treatment such as chemotherapy. In the majority of cases it is temporary.

Finally, telogen effluvium is a common type of alopecia that results in thinning of all the hair rather than the development of bald patches. It often starts as a result of stress or medication, but the symptoms usually improve after a few months.

Though there is rarely a medical reason to seek help for hair loss, many sufferers require treatment for cosmetic reasons that may be affecting their emotional wellbeing.

Where the hair loss is extensive, a wig - either synthetic or real hair - is a useful and instant fix. They range in price from £60 for a synthetic wig to anywhere between £200 and £2,000 for a real hair wig, the most expensive being made to order.

Other treatments are available in the form of medication, though they are often expensive and are not guaranteed to work for everyone. For example, finasteride is available on prescription for male-pattern baldness, and works by preventing testosterone being converted into the hormone hihydrotestosterone, which causes the hair follicles to shrink.

Minoxidil - a lotion that is rubbed onto the scalp daily - is available from pharmacies.

For alopecia areata sufferers, simply waiting is often the best idea, as in most cases the hair grows back after a year. If the hair loss is extensive and affecting your quality of life, however, corticosteroid injections or creams may help. These work by suppressing the immune system, which is thought to damage the hair follicle in this condition.

Surgical solutions to hair loss have increased in popularity in recent years, with hair transplants the most common. This involves removing a small piece of scalp with plenty of hair, which is then divided into tiny groups of hair and grafted onto bald areas. This treatment requires a number of sessions and can it take six months before the hair begins to regrow. It is not available on the NHS and can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Artificial hair implants are also available, but do carry a significant risk of infection and scarring.

For those with scarring alopecia, scalp reductions - where pieces of the bald scalp are removed from the top of the head to move hairier parts closer together - are available as an NHS treatment, but only as a last resort.

Coping with the condition
For many people, losing their hair is difficult to deal with from an emotional point of view. Some begin to feel as though they are losing part of their identify, and low self esteem and depression are common, particularly in those that have lost a lot of hair.

However, there is help available so speak to your GP if you are finding it difficult to cope. Counselling or a local support group may help you to come to terms with your hair loss, while the charity Alopecia UK offers support and advice for those struggling to live with the condition.

Do you suffer from alopecia? How do you cope with your condition? Leave your comments below...