Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Living With Alopecia

For centuries, long, lush locks have been seen as a symbol of great beauty. We frequently perm, curl, and weave in strands to help enhance our appearance, oftentimes without much thought about what life would be like without a perfectly coiffed crown. Now imagine the shock and surprise of suddenly losing it all.

About 6 years ago, I was experiencing hair loss and slow growth in the center of my scalp. That area has always been weak, but I kept perming my hair. Then, about 7 years ago, the thinning got really bad. I read an article that said you should visit a dermatologist if you are experiencing hair loss, but it had never occurred to me before that I should visit a doctor.

When I found out why I was losing my hair, I thought I was going to cry in the doctor's office, but I didn't. However, I was very depressed.

I wasn't at all familiar with alopecia, so I looked online for more information about my condition. I also started seeing a doctor that was conducting research on my specific disease. The most surprising thing that I learned about alopecia is that there is no cure, and doctors aren't sure what causes it. There are guesses that braids, over-processing from relaxers and weaves contribute to it. I have stopped perming my hair, but my scalp in some areas is permanently damaged, so now I wear my hair in a short Caesar cut.

There are many African American women that suffer from alopecia. Hair thinning and hair loss affects as many as two-thirds of African-American women by age 50, according to R. Martin Earles, M.D., a Chicago-based dermatologist who specializes in hair-loss treatment. The effects vary, some worse than others. The earlier you diagnose it, the better, because you can take measures to maintain the portions of the scalp that are still healthy. It's key to catch it before the scalp is permanently scarred.

There are several types of alopecia, a few of which are preventable and can be treated if detected early:

Alopecia areata is a variation of the disease that affects the scalp from the inside. The immune system, which is supposed to protect the body from viruses and bacteria, mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. Hair loss occurs in small round patches and typically doesn't spread beyond that.

Traction alopecia is the most common form of this condition amongst African American women. When hair is consistently pulled too tight into ponytails or braids, stress is put on the strands and they fall out. If caught early enough, a topical minoidil treatment like Rogaine can help restore hair. However, repeated pulling at the scalp can cause scarring and root damage that will prevent your hair from growing back. The best bet for preventing this type of hair loss is to remove braids and weaves, and avoid relaxers if possible.

Cicatricial alopecia – this skin condition cases inflammation in the scalp that destroys the hair follicles and replaces them with scar tissue. The residual damage from the scarring is permanent.

Androgenic alopecia – this occurs when the normal hair growth phase shortens, making strands more fragile and prone to breakage. Over time, hairs falls out easily, leaving bald patches and thin areas.

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I came across this article online, I thought it would really be quite educative to some of us dealing with problems like this.

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