Thirty eight-year-old Karan Prakash had a healthy mop of hair that he loved to style. He tried different hairstyles, dyed it and chopped it, and it grew back abundantly.
One day he noticed a bald spot just above his left ear. It could be seasonal hairfall, he thought, so he changed his shampoo and ignored it. But within months, Prakash went from a big mop to multiple bald spots.
"When I saw the first bald spot, I thought it’d grow back, but when I started developing more spots, I started panicking," recalls Prakash. His dermatologist diagnosed alopecia areata. "I had to wear a skull cap for nine months but my hair never grew back the way it was," says Prakash.
Alopecia areata is an auto immune disease that causes sudden and excessive hair loss when round or oval bald patches start forming on the scalp. Often mistaken for a fungal disease, it is actually a failure of the immune system, which starts destroying hair roots for unknown reasons. Alopecia areata is genetic, and affects men, women and kids.
Humans lose about 100-150 strands of hair every day. In fact, in 1,000 days, all the hair on your head is new. So losing hair every day is natural. But if you start developing bald patches on your scalp or beard, it could be alopecia areata. And if you notice hair falling from one side more than the other, it is a cause for concern. The area of hair loss may tingle a bit. Another common occurrence is the thinning of hair towards the end.
If the affected area is small, it sometimes doesn’t require treatment and the hair starts growing back on its own. But in severe cases, you will need medication, after which the hair usually grows back in 9-12 months. Had Prakash paid attention to that bald patch, he could probably have had a full head of hair again.
Most people believe that alopecia areata is a fungal infection. But alopecia areata is the result of the genetic disposition of the body’s immune system. Also, it is a non-communicable disease.
Hair colours and dyes do not cause alopecia areata. They only damage the hair as they make it rough and dry. In fact, if the p-Phenylenediamine or PPD content is less than two per cent, dyeing does not cause hairfall. Excessive shampooing does not cause alopecia areata. However, you do need to use the correct shampoo for your type of hair. Avoid shampooing with soap as it leads to dry hair and subsequent hair loss.
Alopecia areata is not caused by stress. Stress could lead to hair damage and drying but does not cause hairfall.
Women tend to lose hair post pregnancy. But this is not alopecia areata. It is normal to lose hair post pregnancy and it grows back automatically.
Alopecia areata can be controlled (but not prevented if it is genetic). Remember to cover your hair on the road.
Give up smoking, use the right products, and finally, eat lots of green leafy veggies and apples.
(Inputs by Dr Mukesh Girdhar, senior consultant, Max Super Speciality Hospital)
From HT Brunch, November 20
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