Hair loss or Alopecia is most common on the head but may affect any part of the body. It can develop either gradually or suddenly and may be caused by hereditary factors, aging, local skin conditions and systemic diseases or diseases that affect the whole body. Many drugs can also cause hair loss. This condition is generally referred to as baldness when it occurs in the head.
There are about 5 general types of Alopecia namely: Androgenetic Alopecia, Toxic Alopecia, Alopecia Areata, Trichotillomania and Scarring Alopecia. The most common is Androgenetic Alopecia which eventually affects half of all males and 10% to 20% of women. A slightly elevated level of the male hormones dehydrotestosterone is seen as the most probable cause along with genetic factors. Hair loss can begin at any age even during the teenage years.
Most men experience hair loss or male-pattern baldness beginning at the forehead or on the top of the head toward the back. Some may loose only a few hairs while others experience a receding hairline or a small bald spot at the back. Those whose hair loss began at a young age tend to lose all of the hair on top of the head while retaining hair on the sides and back of the scalp.
Women’s hair loss or female-pattern baldness usually begins on the top of the head and is inclined towards thinning of the hair rather than a complete loss of hair. The hairline stays intact most of the time. The discomfort and social factors surrounding hair loss in a woman makes it more difficult to bear than for a man.
Toxic Alopecia is hair loss resulting from physical or psychological stress. Alopecia Areata is a common skin disorder in which round, irregular patches of hair are suddenly lost. Trichotillomania is the habitual pulling of normal hair while Scarring Alopecia is hair loss that occurs at scarred or damaged areas.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Doctors diagnose male-pattern or female-pattern baldness according to its typical appearance. The causes of other types of hair loss are determined by observation and a series of tests when necessary. Hair shafts are usually examined under a microscope or a biopsy of the skin is performed. A biopsy helps determine if the hair follicles are normal. When they are not, the biopsy can reveal possible causes. Blood tests may be needed when the doctors see signs of hormonal irregularities or other serious illnesses.
Some cases of male-pattern or female-pattern baldness can be effectively treated with drugs such as Minoxidil and Finasteride. Minoxidil stimulates and supports hair growth when applied directly to the scalp daily. Finasteride works by blocking the effects of the male hormones on the hair follicles when taken orally. Improvements derived from taking drugs such as these may be seen after several months of taking or using them. However, the effects last only as long as the drugs are taken. Preventing further hair loss is probably the most important effect of these drugs.
A more permanent solution is presented by hair transplantation. This is a process where hair follicles are removed from one part of the scalp and transplanted to the bald area. Wigs offer the best solution for Toxic Alopecia since it generally resolves itself after the toxic substance is discontinued. Alopecia Areata can be treated with corticosteroids which are typically injected under the skin of the bald patch. Finding the cause of habitual pulling of hair and resolving it is the key to the treatment of Trichotillomania. Causes of scarring in the scalp may be treated but hair growth is unlikely when an area is fully scarred.
A person faced with hair loss whether it is mild or severe, as long as it is beyond the usual rate of daily hair loss should consider giving it prompt attention. The success of most treatments depends on how early the problem is resolved and prevented from doing more harm. This can be done with the help of a qualified physician.
Dermatologists are the physicians that handle hair disorders. However, getting the services of a Dermatologist specializing in women’s hair loss for example is more advantageous. A physician who does not know enough about a specific ailment may not be of much help.
The American Academy of Dermatology has a Physician Referral Service on its website which can be used to find the right doctor. All the registered Dermatologists are presented by state and city. The contact information is given with some providing their profiles.
Educating oneself will help in avoiding treatments that are not considered viable. Being familiar with both the proven and unproven treatments and understanding what each is intended to do will differentiate the true ones from the traps. Hair loss may not be as grave as the other disorders but it can have a very great impact on a person’s general outlook in life.
How long is the response time of hair loss treatments?
Hair loss treatments are most successfully used by those who haven’t waited too long to do something about the situation. The length of time and the extent of hair loss are closely tied in determining how well and fast the response is going to be.
What are DHT Inhibitors?
DHT Inhibitors are a type of hair loss treatment that works to inhibit the binding of Testosterone and 5-Alpha Reductase which helps to keep the DHT levels close to normal allowing hair growth and loss regulation at its normal healthy state.
What are SODs?
SOD or Sugar Oxide Dismutase is a hair loss treatment that works by handling the immune response which occurs as a result of excessive DHT in the hair follicle.
Bald – without hair on the head
Biopsy – the clinical and diagnostic examination of tissues and other material excised from the living subject
Recede – to move back as in a receding hairline