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    What is Alopecia Areata?

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | April 3rd, 2022

    What is Alopecia Areata?

    There is no way I could not comment on what happened last Sunday. Yes, I am going to talk about the famous slap. When I saw Will Smith slap Chris Rock because of Chris Rock’s joke, I immediately remembered what I used to say as a child, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” I had to say it as a kid because I would be slapping everyone if I did not. I was called ‘big lip,’ ‘nappy hair,’ ‘shortie,’ and more. I would respond, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” I know there has been a lot said, but I want to say that I believe Will Smith was wrong, and Chris Rock handled himself with class. I do not think he knew about the illness. I did not realize it until that evening.

    So, what is alopecia areata? It is not central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) which I wrote about in Hair Care is Part of Self-CareAlopecia areata is an autoimmune inflammatory disease. It is a medical condition. It is a disease where the immune system attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss. It affects all racial and ethnic groups, occurring at any age. Men and women get it equally.

    Alopecia areata is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease associated with other autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like eczema, psoriasis, thyroid disease, or vitiligo. It can also be related to an allergic reaction. Emotional stress or a severe illness can sometimes trigger the disease. Although genetics may play a role, some people get it without a family history.

    There are three forms of alopecia areata:

    • Patchy alopecia areata – this is the most common. There are patches of hair loss on the scalp.
    • Alopecia totalis – loss of the hair on the scalp.
    • Alopecia universalis – this is rare; there is complete hair loss on the scalp, face, and the rest of the body.

    There are 6.8 million people in the United States diagnosed with alopecia areata. This can be emotionally draining for anyone to be diagnosed with alopecia areata. It is not a physical disability but can take an emotional toll. There is no cure for alopecia areata, but there are treatments that help hair grow back more equally.

    Not all hair loss is due to alopecia areata. Talk to your doctor if you have thinning of the hair or hair loss. Some tests can be done. If your health care provider cannot determine why you are losing hair, you might be referred to a dermatologist.

    For anyone who has alopecia areata, there is the National Alopecia Areata Foundation whose members are available for support.

    2 Responses to “What is Alopecia Areata?”

    1. Linda K. Jackson says:

      Thank you for the explanation of the various types of alopecia. I had traction alopecia, on the right side of my scalp, as a child, from hair being pulled too tight (pig-tail hairstyle). I now have alopecia areata from thyroid challenges, as well as hypertension medication (suspected). I know people who totally embrace their condition, while others don wigs. I’ve chosen to wear headwraps. Thank you again for the precious information that you share!

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