Why some people lose their hair in patches

Known as Alopecia areata, the condition affects over a million people in India

April 01, 2019 05:13 pm | Updated 05:13 pm IST



Last week, the sister noticed a small patch of hair missing on the scalp above her left ear. Worried our parents would blame her curling iron for it, and confiscate the device, she resorted to calling me instead. She had what docs call Alopecia areata apparently a common condition, affecting over a million people in India.

Hair falls in patches — generally, from the scalp — and in more severe cases, eyelashes, and eyebrows. “Though the exact reason for it is not established, the main postulated theory is that it is a specific type of autoimmune disease,” says Chennai dermatologist Dr Deepika Lunawat. Which essentially means that the body’s immune system starts acting against its own hair follicles, resulting in hair loss.

“It is a polygenic (caused by multiple genes) disorder. Studies have shown that environmental factors such as high stress levels, low amounts of zinc and iron in the body, trigger the condition in an individual who is already genetically susceptible,” she says.

If people in your family have had it as well, or if you have other autoimmune conditions, you are more likely to get it.

“There is no complete cure for alopecia areata, but there are medications available to curtail the disease activity,” she says. “Topicals such as corticosteroids, when applied on the affected patchy areas, decrease inflammation, and encourage hair growth.” The other option, said the doctor, is immunotherapy and phototherapy.

Oral medications are available as well, but doctors don’t often prescribe them, especially in teenagers, as it can affect growth. “If topical therapy isn’t responding, I would prefer intralesional corticosteroids over oral: you inject the medication into the patches, so that the effect is more concentrated,” she says.

Despite the emotional or psychological toll of hair loss, the good news is that it is mostly cosmetic in nature, and not symptomatic of any underlying issues. You can expect your hair to return within two to six months.

In this column, we demystify the buzzwords in wellness.

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