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Alopecia

4-minute read

Losing your hair (known as alopecia, in medical language) can be distressing. This article describes the different types of hair loss, explores treatment options and advises on where you can go to seek help.

What is alopecia and what causes it?

Alopecia is a condition that causes people to lose hair either from a single area or from multiple areas of their head, face or body.

The most common types are:

  • male pattern baldness
  • female pattern baldness
  • alopecia areata

Less commonly, hair loss can be caused by chemicals (such as cancer treatments), physical conditions, or by excessive pulling or tension caused by some hairstyles. This last reason is seen more often in women than in men.

Male pattern baldness

Male pattern baldness occurs when the hair follicles, which are the bottom of the stalks of hair, become too sensitive to hormones. The hair then stops growing.

Two things happen: the hair recedes back from the forehead; and the hair on top of the head thins. Some men end up with a 'horseshoe' shape of hair around the back of their head, while others lose all their hair.

Male pattern baldness tends to run in families.

Female pattern baldness

The cause of female pattern baldness (also called female pattern hair loss, or FPHL) is not as clear, but it’s also likely to be caused by a sensitivity to hormones. It can also run in families. In women, thinning is the bigger problem.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a treatable but not fully curable autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles. It can affect children as well as adults.

No one knows for sure what causes alopecia areata, but it’s probably triggered by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Some people believe that extreme stress and anxiety can trigger it, but there is little scientific evidence to support this.

Usually, alopecia areata leads to one or more small, circular patches of hair loss, usually on the head. Bald patches can grow quickly. The hair usually grows back, but it can take several months.

Apart from the head, alopecia areata can cause hair loss on the face, beard, eyebrows and eyelashes. Even nostril hairs can fall out. It’s less likely that your hair will grow back if you have this more extensive hair loss. But talk to your doctor about the options: your hair follicles aren’t dead, but they need a trigger to start working again.

How is alopecia diagnosed?

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about hair loss. Your doctor will usually be able to find the cause, but might refer you to a dermatologist, who will inspect the area. If they are unsure about what’s causing the hair loss, they might take a sample of skin, hair or blood to examine more closely.

Living with alopecia

Alopecia can be temporary or permanent. You might find it easy to accept, and feel it doesn’t impact your life. However, you might find it confusing and embarrassing, affecting your self-image, self-esteem, confidence or mental health.

Accepting your hair loss is the most straightforward and cheapest way to cope, but this won't always be easy.

There are practical actions that a person living with alopecia can take, such as wearing a wig, getting a hair transplant or getting eyebrow tattoos.

If you have male or female pattern baldness, treatments such as minoxidil and finasteride can sometimes slow the hair loss – see your doctor for advice.

If you have alopecia areata, medications such as corticosteroids might help. Again, talk to your GP or your dermatologist.

Remember that you are not alone. If you are finding it difficult to accept your hair loss, there is still help and advice available to you.

Where to seek help

  • beyondblue can help you if you feel anxious or depressed. Call 1300 22 4636 anytime.

 

Last reviewed: February 2018

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Top results

Male pattern hair loss or baldness - a fact sheet | Andrology Australia

Male pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia) affects all men to some degree as they grow older.

Read more on Andrology Australia website

Hair loss (alopecia, baldness) information video | myVMC

Hair loss and thinning hair is rarely a medical concern, but going bald is distressing. There is no baldness cure, but hair loss treatments can help.

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Hair loss overview - myDr.com.au

Hair loss (alopecia) is common and can cause significant worry and anxiety. But there are several ways of treating and managing hair loss. Treatment depends on the type of hair loss.

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Patterned hair loss - Better Health Channel

All men and women develop progressive patterned hair loss as they grow older.

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Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) - ACD

Female pattern hair loss (FPHL) is the term used to describe genetic hair thinning in females. This condition can affect women of any age but is more common after menopause. Around 40% of women show signs of FPHL by age 50.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Lichen planopilaris - ACD

Lichen planopilaris (LPP) is a rare inflammatory scalp disorder characterised by scarring alopecia (permanent hair loss) with several different patterns.

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Hair loss or alopecia: children & teens | Raising Children Network

Sometimes alopecia or hair loss in children can be quite normal. But if youre worried about your child losing hair, its a good idea to see your GP.

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Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) - ACD

Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) is a chronic, progressive, scarring alopecia (hair loss) most commonly starting at the top (crown) or back (vertex) of the scalp.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Alopecia areata - ACD

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease characterised by non-scarring hair loss in single or multiple areas of the scalp, face or body.

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Traction Alopecia - ACD

Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that is most commonly seen in people with skin of colour (dark skin).

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