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Alopecia Awareness Month
Alopecia Areata Awareness
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder that affects roughly 6.8 million people in the United States (US). This disorder usually results in unpredictable hair loss. Hair usually falls out in small patches at a time but some cases can be more extreme.
This autoimmune disorder can lead to complete loss of hair on the scalp, which has been termed alopecia totalis. In extreme cases, when the entire body suffers hair loss it is called alopecia universalis. This condition can affect anyone no matter the age or gender, but studies have shown that most cases occur before the age of 30.
What causes Alopecia Areata?
Your body's immune system is meant to prevent the body from disease and infection. When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body. Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body and there is no sure reason as to what causes them. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the hair follicles-these are the structures from which hair grows. In time, the follicles become smaller and stop producing hair, resulting in hair loss.
Researchers have yet been able to find out what triggers this phenomenon to take place so; the exact cause of Alopecia Areata is unknown. Some researchers say that this condition is more likely to occur in persons that have a history of autoimmune diseases in their family for example, rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes.
What are the Symptoms of Alopecia Areata?
Patchy hair loss is one of the most common and noticeable symptoms. It often begins with smooth coin sized patches where hair once was. The problem becomes noticeable when you start to see patches of hair on your pillow or in the shower. Hair loss usually occurs mostly in the scalp but can also affect eyebrows, eyelashes and for men, beards-basically any hair bearing site. With time, some patients go completely bald and some experience universal hair loss.
How Can Alopecia be treated?
There is no cure for this condition. For some, hair re-grows on its own and for others, the hair does not grow back at all. In the cases where the hair may grow back, doctors can prescribe treatments that may help the hair to grow more rapidly.
The outcome of these treatments is different for every person. In mild cases, patients generally respond well to cortisone injections in the scalp. Cortisone suppresses inflammation and stops the white blood cells from attacking the hair follicles and sometimes this promotes regrowth. In more extreme cases such as alopecia areata totalis or alopecia areata universalis, the hair loss is usually long lasting or permanent.
Meet Ain Earle
Here's her story:
I was diagnosed in 2014 with Alopecia Areata. For as long as I could remember I always wanted locs, I admired my aunt's floor length locs and could not wait to have my own. I loc'd my hair right after CXC in 2001 and was ecstatic! I loved styling my hair and watching it grow. In 2004, things turned for the worse with the passing of my grandmother, I was completing by Associate Degree and the stress became unbearable. I started noticing spots on my scalp while at the hairdresser. I tried hiding it and decided to not go to a doctor. In a matter of months the spots became bigger and I had no choice but to go to a dermatologist. The doctor diagnosed me with Alopecia and I was put on a regiment of steroid tablets, female rogaine and methods to reduce stress. I was told that I had an auto immune disease that can be present because of someone else in your family having an auto immune condition and that it was sometimes thought to appear and be present due to stress. I stressed out more just learning about the condition. I was still in a bit of denial and proceeded to visit three other doctors who all gave me the same diagnosis. In about 6 months, the spots became larger and I graduated to steroid injections as a more rigorous treatment for the balding.
By this time my hair was still growing, however it became thinner near the spots and I was advised to cut/trim my hair and the weight may have been an issue. I was devastated as I was still holding on the dream of having long locs and could not imagine losing my hair. After almost two years of steroid injections, I saw some change and then the spots came back, my brows and lashes were getting thinner but the stress of the hair on my head took over. There was an instance in late 2008 my hair was almost non- existent and I was still taking the injections, then it all fell off with the sweep of my hand. My family and close friends who knew what was happening were very supportive but I felt alone, ugly and scared. Scared of what was happening to me, how people would react and if I could ever look like “myself” again. During 2008-2009, I went from Alopecia Areata (small bald spots) to Alopecia Totalis (loss of hair on the entire head) and then to the rare and dreaded Universalis (loss of hair across the entire body) - I could rub my arm and see the hair fall off, my lashes fell off and my eyebrows disappeared. A friend of mine had to teach me how to draw on my brows, I wore head ties because I was still not ready to share my condition and the “new me” with the world. I had a head tie to match any outfit I owned, it was my safety blanket.
There came a time in 2010, I could not find the right head tie to go out in and I was frustrated and did not want to go anywhere but I had the idea that this may have been a sign for me to step out without my armor and headed out bald. It was a bit uncomfortable but I was greeted with so much support and kind words, that I started going out with my head tie on numerous occasions. It still took two more years or so for me to be fully confident in my skin to even utter the words Alopecia to anyone. I was still very conscious of my appearance and the daily stares made it hard to accept myself. Still not sure when it happened but glad it did that I took the step love myself all over again, and regain the strength to not notice the stares and talk about my story in the hope that it may help someone else.
Bald Beauty is an awareness and support group for persons with Alopecia in Trinidad and Tobago (we are yet to meet anyone and have a meeting in Tobago, but it is on the list). It was created to let fellow Alopecians know they are not alone, they have a safe space and community that is going and growing through what is happening with their hair. For the ones who are open and brave, we share their stories so the general public can truly understand what it's like to have Alopecia, inform them that we are not sick and our hair does not define us. Since its creation we have had coverage in all the local newspapers, been on two morning shows even recently interviewed by an international “Baldie Movement”.
Anyone who wants to reach out can join or message the Facebook page - Bald Beauty TT and/or email [email protected]
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