What is Alopecia ? Sarah talks about having alopecia universalis

Sarah is a client at the Hair Club in Dublin, in the video she talks about her journey having  alopecia universalis and wearing wigs. Over the next few months we hope to be working with Sarah as our brand ambassador for a new Alopecia website to raise awareness about alopecia.  


Understanding Alopecia Universalis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Alopecia Universalis (AU) is a rare and severe form of alopecia, characterized by the complete loss of hair on the scalp and body. This condition can be emotionally and psychologically challenging, but understanding its causes, symptoms, and potential treatments can help those affected manage the condition more effectively. In this blog, we'll delve into the details of Alopecia Universalis, exploring what it is, why it occurs, and how it can be treated.

What is Alopecia Universalis?

Alopecia Universalis is an advanced form of alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. While alopecia areata typically causes patchy hair loss on the scalp, Alopecia Universalis results in the complete loss of hair on the scalp, face (including eyebrows and eyelashes), and the rest of the body.

Causes of Alopecia Universalis

The exact cause of Alopecia Universalis is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to a combination of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors.

1. Genetics

Family history plays a significant role in the development of autoimmune conditions, including Alopecia Universalis. Individuals with a family history of alopecia areata, other autoimmune diseases, or even asthma and allergies may have a higher risk of developing AU.

2. Immune System Dysfunction

Alopecia Universalis is primarily an autoimmune disorder. In people with AU, the immune system mistakenly targets the hair follicles, treating them as foreign invaders. This immune response leads to inflammation and hair follicle damage, resulting in hair loss.

3. Environmental Triggers

Certain environmental factors, such as viral infections, physical or emotional stress, and exposure to certain chemicals, may trigger or exacerbate the condition in genetically predisposed individuals.

Symptoms of Alopecia Universalis

The hallmark symptom of Alopecia Universalis is the complete loss of hair on the scalp and body. This includes:

  • Scalp Hair: Total loss of scalp hair.
  • Facial Hair: Loss of eyebrows, eyelashes, and beard.
  • Body Hair: Loss of hair on the arms, legs, chest, back, and pubic area.

Other potential symptoms may include:

  • Nail Changes: Some individuals with AU may experience changes in their nails, such as pitting, ridging, or brittleness.
  • Skin Sensitivity: The hairless areas may become more sensitive to environmental factors like sun exposure, as hair provides a protective barrier.

Diagnosis of Alopecia Universalis

Diagnosing Alopecia Universalis typically involves a physical examination and a review of the patient's medical history. In some cases, additional tests may be conducted to rule out other conditions and confirm the diagnosis:

  • Scalp Biopsy: A small sample of scalp skin may be taken to examine the hair follicles and rule out other causes of hair loss.
  • Blood Tests: These can help identify underlying autoimmune disorders or other health issues contributing to hair loss.

Treatments for Alopecia Universalis

While there is no definitive cure for Alopecia Universalis, various treatments can help manage the condition and promote hair regrowth in some individuals. The effectiveness of these treatments can vary from person to person.

1. Topical Treatments

  • Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications can be applied to the affected areas to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response.
  • Minoxidil (Rogaine): Often used for androgenetic alopecia, minoxidil can also promote hair regrowth in some cases of AU.

2. Systemic Treatments

  • Oral Corticosteroids: Systemic corticosteroids can help reduce immune system activity, but they are typically used for short periods due to potential side effects.
  • Immunosuppressants: Medications like methotrexate or cyclosporine can suppress the immune system and potentially reduce hair loss.

3. Biologics

  • JAK Inhibitors: Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, such as tofacitinib and ruxolitinib, have shown promise in treating alopecia areata and AU by targeting specific pathways in the immune response.

4. Light Therapy

  • Phototherapy: Light therapy, or phototherapy, using ultraviolet (UV) light, can help reduce immune activity in the skin and promote hair regrowth.

5. Alternative and Complementary Therapies

  • Acupuncture: Some individuals find acupuncture helpful in managing symptoms and promoting hair regrowth.
  • Nutritional Supplements: Ensuring a balanced diet and taking supplements, such as biotin and zinc, may support overall hair health.

6. Supportive Measures

  • Wigs and Hairpieces: High-quality wigs and hairpieces can provide a natural appearance and boost confidence.
  • Eyebrow and Eyelash Solutions: Cosmetic options, such as eyebrow tattoos or eyelash extensions, can help enhance facial features.

Coping with Alopecia Universalis

Living with Alopecia Universalis can be challenging, but there are ways to cope with the emotional and psychological impact of the condition:

  • Support Groups: https://www.alopeciaireland.ie/ Connecting with others who have alopecia can provide a sense of community and understanding.
  • Counseling: Professional counseling or therapy can help individuals manage the emotional aspects of hair loss.
  • Education: Learning about the condition and treatment options empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their care.