Living with Alopecia Areata
If you met me, you would never know unless I told you that I suffer from Alopecia Areata. As a child I had extremely long hair until the age of 7 when my Mother decided to cut it all off because I was going on holiday for a week with my Grandmother and she thought it would be easier for her. I was absolutely devastated! This single act set a course for my life and I have never had short hair since. My hair is thick and down to my waist but right now I also have two bald patches near the base of my hairline at the back.
I developed Alopecia Areata after the death of my beloved dog. She died in March 2002. I then lost my cat in September the same year. Not long after he passed away I discovered a huge bald spot on the back of my head. I was horrified. Whilst Alopecia Areata isn't life threatening in any way, it's effects of self-esteem can be devastating depending on the amount of hair lost. For me my hair defines me. Everyone describes me as 'Leah with the long hair'. It's a feature, a trademark, a part of myself I truly love. I cannot describe the fear that went through me, the overwhelming sense of loss, the sense that I was losing myself.
I went immediately to my doctors the following day after being awake all night worrying and burst into tears the minute I got into the office. My nerves were shot to pieces with what had happened that year anyway and I was at my wits end. After a battery of tests, my doctor confirmed that I had developed Alopecia Areata and the most likely cause in my case was stress.
Stress certainly plays a part. There are many arguments you will find against this but in my own personal case, a period of high stress will most often trigger the alopecia. Normally however it tends to come a couple of months after the stress itself has subsided. Unfortunately I am a pretty highly strung at the best of times (!) and the alopecia itself can be stress inducing. I had to learn to calm myself down in order to keep my hair.
I was lucky that my doctor was kind and took my wary attitude to medical treatments seriously. The option given at the time were steroid injections into my skull. I passed and chose instead to be referred to the local homeopath.
Alopecia Areata is basically you body fighting itself. The T cells that normally fight off infection, turn on your body instead. It is an auto-immune disorder for which at the moment there is no cure. Science has some evidence to say that it is likely to be hereditary and more common in those who have family members who suffer from auto-immune conditions such as asthma, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis (all three are in my family).
Itching, soreness and/or pain is usually the first sign that my hair is about the fall out. It comes on quickly and the hair will normally start to fall within a few days. I also tend to develop flu like symptoms for a day or so with my body aching and a high temperature. When I discovered my first bald patch it quickly led to many others developing within a couple of weeks. The first time was the worst I have ever experienced having nine bald patches at once. As this developed, the itching on my scalp drove me crazy. One night at four in the morning it was so bad that I had to put my head in freezing cold water to calm it down. Thankfully I discovered a cure for this!
If you suffer from terrible itching I absolutely recommend using apple cider vinegar. It will stop the itch almost immediately. These days as soon as I experience any itching I dab a mixture of 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 drops of lavender essential oil and two drops of tea tree oil. Using cotton wool I then dap this gently all over my scalp and leave it to sit for about half an hour before washing my hair as normal. This for me was a miracle cure for the alopecia itch!
The homeopath I went to was excellent and prescribed me sulphur as a remedy. I took this religiously until my hair started to grow back. Note that different remedies suit different people. I would strongly advise that you go for a consultation with a homeopath first rather just buying some sulphur!
Normally it takes around 12 weeks until my hair starts to grow back. If the bald spot is somewhere where it could be visible I simply plait hair across it so that it can't be noticed. Whilst I no longer feel so self-conscious about it, I would still rather hide the patches. The funniest thing is that sometimes the hair grows back pure white. If this happens to you, don't worry. The colour will gradually appear as the hair grows longer just leaving you with tiny white tips at the end which you can snip off in time. The initial hair is fine and soft just like baby hair. Once the hair growth restarts, I notice the bald patch quickly fill in. Normally it will start at the centre of the bald spot and move out to the edges.
It has been 9 years now since I developed alopecia. I have learned to watch for dreams that tell me my hair is about to fall out. My body knows long before I do that things are out of balance. I give myself Reiki, I try to keep calm. Nowadays it is more of an annoyance than a crisis when I discover a bald spot and I have noticed they come less often. I managed to get through nearly two years this time before my recent bout. 2010 was a hard year though so most likely the reason for my two latest crop circles. It's a difficult condition which can and has affected my self esteem at times but I have learned to live with it. Whilst I may wish that I didn't have it, it has taught me to be kinder to my mind, body and soul.
- Alopecia UK Online :: Alopecia Areata, Alopecia Universalis and Alopecia Totalis
Alopecia UK provides information, advice and support for people with experience of alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis. Alopecia UK also works to raise awareness of alopecia areata and supports and funds research.
- National Alopecia Areata Foundation:
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation supports research to find a cure or acceptable treatment for alopecia areata, supports those with the disease, and educates the public about alopecia areata.