It sounds like classified communication from aliens, but alopecia areata is an auto-immune disease that causes (gasp!) hair loss.
Here’s the full breakdown, as told by one woman who experienced it first-hand.
Capetonian Annette van Rooyen was 14 when she noticed a massive shedding of hair over two weeks. She then discovered a perfectly round, coin-sized bald spot on her scalp. It wasn’t long before she had several more.
A dermatologist diagnosed alopecia areata, or circular bald patches that occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles. Two percent of the population (about half of them women) have the genetic condition, which can progress to total hair loss, often over the entire body. Though the condition is unpredictable – hair can regrow and fall out again in cycles, sans pain or itching – the more widespread the loss, the harder it is to treat. In fact, experts say that if you experience 80 percent or more hair loss, it’s unlikely that the hair will grow back. As a teenager, Annette was already self-conscious but reminded herself that the disease wasn’t life-threatening.
Annette was prescribed zinc tablets and applied a topical cream to the bald patches. Her doctor performed tests to try discover the cause of Annette’s hair loss, including a thyroid function test and tests for fungal or bacterial infections, none of which were present.
She tried homeopathy, having her fillings replaced, exclusion diets, vitamin B, steroids and light therapy. “I even sent a strand of hair to trichologist Philip Kingsley in London for analysis,” she says. After losing 60 percent of her hair, Annette began wearing wigs and scarves. “This was tricky when doing spontaneous things, so I tried not to get myself into situations where the wig might fly off!” she says.
Annette has discovered what works for her: scalp injections once a month (up to 30 at a time), a 10-day steroid treatment and continued use of Regaine (five percent minoxidil). Besides mild flushing from the steroid, Annette hasn’t experienced any side effects – and her hair has grown back (she’s had a full head of hair for five years), a surprise for her doctors, as she’d lost more than 80 percent of her hair. Now, she wears her scarves around her neck.