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Alopecia areata affects people of all ages but the incidence is higher among children. Children below the age of 5 years experience little or no emotional impact as a result of the disease, and so alopecia in babies is easy to deal with. However, as they grow up, accepting the disease becomes difficult for them, and it affects their self-confidence.
What is Alopecia Areata?
An auto-immune disease (a disease affecting one’s own immune system), alopecia areata results in patchy hair fall – hair falls off the scalp in patches, leaving bald spots. It is very uncommon in babies who are less than 18 months of age. While it can happen at any age the first signs are likely to appear later in childhood.
Millions of people around the globe suffer from this autoimmune disease.
In this disease, the baby’s immune system attacks her growing hair follicles. This leads to a shrinkage of the hair follicles. As a result, the hair growth slows down, and no hair grows out of the follicle for months or even years.
Alopecia areata does not mean that the child is unhealthy. It also does not come with any painful symptoms. It is characterised by hair loss in small patches, and the baby can even become completely bald. She can lose body hair as well, but that is rare. In most cases, your baby will recover most of the lost hair.
Alopecia Areata in Childhood
Although Alopecia areata is quite common, most people do not know exactly what it is.
Ages 5 & Younger
Children who are five years old or less do not really pay attention to how they look. They don’t care if they look different from other children of their age.
Children do not experience an emotional impact during this time. They might even find their hair loss as an interesting occurrence. Since other children of their age do not notice anything amiss either, the disease poses no major problem.
Ages 6 to 12
By the time children turn six, they will start noticing and differentiating between themselves and others. They start interacting with people and gain a self-awareness that makes them acutely aware of their physical appearance. By the time they turn twelve, they become aware of this condition and understand that people may treat them differently because of the disease.
This will most likely make a difference. Older children will find it difficult to accept that they have alopecia areata. They may experience a lack of self-confidence, and that may even affect their daily lives. The hair fall may be a source of friction among them and their friends or classmates too. Even children who have been suffering from this condition since they were babies, might become frustrated and may want to ‘fit in’ among the kids who do not have alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata occurs when your child’s immune system fails to work properly. The immune system attacks the hair follicles leading to hair fall. The hair follicles become weak and release the hair. However, it should be remembered that in most cases this damage is not permanent.
You do not need to worry if your toddler is suffering from alopecia areata. In most cases, childhood alopecia gets cured and hair starts re-growing. No fixed pattern is followed here and the symptoms differ from one patient to another. If your toddler is experiencing hair loss, it is advisable to consult a paediatrician for a complete diagnosis.
The doctor will be able to diagnose alopecia areata by checking the symptoms and conducting a few tests. Additional tests may be needed to check if the immune system has affected other organs of the child’s body.
Alopecia Areata is not contagious and children with the disease can mingle with other kids freely without any issues.
Here’s what you need to be on the lookout for to identify Alopecia Areata:
- Hair falling from the child’s scalp in small and round patches
- Bald patches leading to complete baldness
- Hair loss from the child’s body
Diagnosis of Alopecia
It is important that you take the child to the doctor if you suspect that she may have Alopecia Areata. The doctors examine the scalp and the pattern in which the hair is falling to diagnose alopecia. They may pull out a few strands of hair and examine them under the microscope. They may take a sample of your child’s scalp too. The doctor may conduct blood tests to know if the child suffers from hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, as these can lead to hair loss in children too.
Alopecia Areata Treatment in Children
While there is no cure for this disease, the doctor might recommend corticosteroids which help in promoting hair growth.
A great way to treat alopecia areata in toddlers is to ensure that your child is eating nutrient-rich food. Hair fall due to alopecia can be because of deficiency of nutrients.
What are the Effects of Alopecia
Children with alopecia are anything but sick. There is no pain associated with the hair loss and the disease is not contagious. Life expectancy is also not affected.
How to Parent a Child with Alopecia?
Ensuring that a child with Alopecia feels accepted and confident is a daunting task. Consider taking the help of professional counsellors who may be able to help in developing a positive image. Ask your child to trust you and to share everything that upsets her. If they experience any kind of teasing in school, do not hesitate to talk to the teachers and even the principal, if required.
Alopecia is neither life-threatening nor contagious. It does not have any painful symptoms that cause physical discomfort. The only noticeable symptom is the hair loss. This can be emotionally devastating for a child once they are adolescents. Parents may not be able to stop the teasing, but a parent’s support can provide a positive outlet so that the child can handle the emotional stress associated with it.