When it comes to hair loss, male pattern baldness can take a significant toll on your self-confidence. Not to mention, it can be worrisome. Hair loss can accompany serious medical conditions that may need to be evaluated by a dermatologist. But, is there a difference between alopecia or male pattern baldness? And, how do you decide whether or not you need to seek medical treatment?
Alopecia certainly sounds like a daunting term. And the condition can quickly become tough to manage, especially when it begins to rob you of your self-esteem. To give you some insight into the condition, we’ll cover everything you need to know about alopecia—including how it differs from male pattern baldness—so you can better understand the symptoms and treatment options available to you.
What is Alopecia?
Alopecia, also known as alopecia areata, is an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss in one or more areas on the scalp. In some cases, hair falls out in quarter-sized clumps. Whereas, in more extreme cases, hair loss is present in every area of the body. Alopecia areata is the most common type; and although it is not life-threatening, it can affect people of any age, gender, and ethnicity. Additional forms of alopecia include:
Alopecia totalis: the loss of all hair on the scalp
Alopecia universalis: the loss of hair across the entire body
Diffuse alopecia: sudden thinning of hair, instead of loss of hair in patches
Ophiasis alopecia: loss of hair in band shape around back and sides of the scalp
Alopecia areata affects approximately 6.8 million people throughout the United States.
Symptoms of Alopecia
Alopecia presents itself differently in each individual. Hair loss can be insignificant or considerable in its amount. And, hair loss patterns are unpredictable, making it difficult to determine how severe the condition will be. Bald patches are usually smooth and lack redness or rash present at the site.
Nonetheless, there are similar symptoms that everyone diagnosed with alopecia experiences. The only way to know if alopecia is affecting you is to make an appointment with your dermatologist. Still, we’ve conjured up a list of the most commonly recognized symptoms that may present themselves with the condition:
Small, round patches of hair loss on the scalp or in the beard area (but hair loss can happen anywhere, even eyelashes can be affected)
Rapid hair loss—losing a large amount of hair in a short amount of time
Bald patches get larger and/or grow into one another
Condition seems to get worse or becomes a continuous cycle of hair loss and re-growth in different areas
Hairs breaking before they reach the skin’s surface
Thinning, redness, or denting of fingernails and toenails
What Causes Alopecia?
The hair condition is an autoimmune disease. The immune system mistakes healthy hair follicles as foreign and attacks, causing them to shrink and slow the production of hair growth. Regardless, multiple factors could potentially come into play between the development of alopecia and when it is triggered.
Researchers have found that alopecia is linked in some way or another to genetics, while one in five people with the disorder has a family member who will also develop alopecia. A small amount of evidence suggests that alopecia is potentially associated with severe stress. But, genetics is a more widely accepted factor in alopecia susceptibility. Several factors contribute to the condition, including hormones, viruses, environmental toxins, and even allergies; however, doctors are unsure of the true culprit.
Additionally, due to its genetic link, you’re more likely to develop alopecia if you also have asthma, Down syndrome, vitiligo, thyroid disease, or pernicious anemia.
Is Alopecia Permanent?
Many people fear that their hair loss due to alopecia will be permanent, but, fortunately, that’s not always the case. The condition is only found to be a lifetime risk in 2.1 percent of cases, and the hair follicles are not usually destroyed, allowing re-growth to take place.
Alopecia causes an inflammatory response in hair follicles, which ultimately leads to a lack of hair production. Those who suffer from small patches of hair loss typically experience the condition for a short amount of time and undergo a full recovery without the need for treatment—so long as inflammation subsides. But, around 30 percent of individuals find that the condition will become worse and more extensive, often encouraging them to seek treatment. If left untreated, alopecia can continue to flare up over time and lead to permanent hair loss.
Male Pattern Baldness vs. Alopecia
Male pattern baldness and alopecia share similar symptoms: considerable hair loss. So, what is the difference?
The primary contrast between male pattern baldness and alopecia is predictability. As we discussed earlier, alopecia is not predictable, whereas male pattern baldness happens as it says—in a pattern. Nonetheless, several other differences help distinguish the two.
Alopecia is a disorder—or rather, a condition—that roots itself within the body as a symptom of autoimmune issues. Hair suddenly falls off in clumps and with no particular pattern. It merely switches off the follicles and tosses the hair out until it decides they’re no longer a threat. That said, it’s almost always temporary.
Male pattern baldness differs from alopecia in the sense that it is not acknowledged as a disorder. Although, researchers have found it is primarily a genetic issue and, therefore, hereditary, which is similar to the genetic link to alopecia. However, male pattern baldness takes its form in a pattern that is typically seen in most cases: hair loss begins at the hairline and recedes until the hair ultimately forms a horseshoe shape. It is more common than alopecia and happens over a longer period. It also does not grow back as it often does with alopecia.
Treatment Options for Alopecia
Because of its unpredictability, alopecia does not have a cure. But fortunately, several treatment methods are available for those who have been diagnosed. Common treatments include:
Corticosteroids: Beneficial for mild cases, corticosteroid cream is anti-inflammatory and can be applied to bald patches, or corticosteroids can be injected at the site.
Topical immunotherapy: Chemicals can be applied in more severe cases to cause an allergic reaction, promoting hair re-growth.
Rogaine: Used for pattern baldness, Rogaine can be applied to encourage hair growth; however, results can take up to twelve weeks and are not guaranteed.
While medical treatments provide options for alopecia, they may not be for everyone. Many cases do not take to traditional therapies.
Alternative options are always useful and can offer considerable effects on self-esteem and emotional well-being. At Your Hair Matters, we create custom hair systems that last for weeks at a time and are adhered directly to the scalp. You don’t have to suffer from alopecia alone; our custom hair systems are often less than $400 and can offer you the confidence you’re searching for. That said, when medical options aren’t cutting it, it may be beneficial to take matters into your own hands—or rather, place them in ours.