written by Dr Natasha Slabbert
After this year’s Oscars and the attention through actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith, the term alopecia has received much more attention and has become one the of the most common topics researched on the internet today. But what is alopecia exactly?
Alopecia is a medical term used for hair loss and can clinically be divided into scarring and non-scarring alopecia. It is a condition that can affect both males and females and is a common clinical complaint worldwide. The most common problem doctors encounter today is that patients tend to present when their hair loss is already in an advanced stage which can lead to permanent damage. When hair loss is permanent, very little can be done about it.
The cause for the hair loss is not always straightforward to diagnose. A tricoscopy and a biopsy might sometimes be necessary. Due to scarring types of alopecia, timely diagnosis is key to prevent permanent hair loss. Like some dermatologists say: Time = hair follicle.
There is a difference between hair shedding and hair loss and it is important to distinguish between these two concepts.
Hair shedding means that the hair has completed its growth cycle and detaches from the skin and then falls out. According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, normal hair loss can range between losing 50 to 100 strands of her per day. Although certain conditions can lead to an increase of hair shedding and one should ask yourself as to why this is happening.
Increased hair shedding is defined as losing more than 100 hairs a day.
Affected individuals will start noticing increased hair on their brush, their pillows, clothes and when pulling the hair. This is called telogen effluvium and is characterized as a temporary, non-scaring form of alopecia and can be due to a triggering factor. Common causes include stress, giving birth, deficiencies, diets, starvation, fever, major surgery, after Covid infection, chronic conditions like an underactive thyroid and certain medications.
Hair loss occurs when something stops the hair from growing, when there is decreased thickness of the hair, or you lose the number of hairs on the scalp. Common causes for hair loss include auto-immune disorders like Alopecia Areata where the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles and causes patchy hair loss.
Androgenetic Alopecia refers to male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness and is hormone related. Another common cause for hair loss is Traction alopecia where there is constant pulling on the hair and is most often caused by braids.
It is important that people suffering of hair loss do not wait until their hair loss is at an advanced stage. Rather consult your doctor to determine the underlying cause. There are multiple treatment options available which include treating the underlying cause, medication, topical treatments, platelet-rich plasma treatment (PRP), hair fillers and advanced technologies which include stem cell therapy and hair transplants. The right treatment is directed by the right diagnosis! Remember time = hair follicle.