It can be bad enough when grown men and women lose their hair, but imagine how traumatic it is for kids. Alopecia areata is the medical name for the type of baldness that most frequently affects children and teenagers. It isn’t common, and usually involves a patchy loss of hair from all over the head rather than the evenly receding hairline that men experience. The NHS reports that in one in five cases alopecia runs in the family, and that of the one in a hundred people affected, many are children or teenagers. One clinic in Manchester has reported that the number of under-21 year olds it saw with alopecia increased three times between 2007 and 2009, so it’s a growing problem. Often it’s hereditary. Sadly, there’s no cure. In many cases the hair will eventually grow back naturally. But in some it won’t. There are, however, several ways in which it can be disguised, by wearing wigs, for instance.
The precise causes of alopecia aren’t always clear, though experts believe it’s connected to how well the immune system works. It doesn’t mean there’s any other problem with your child’s health, it isn’t connected to nutrition, and opinion is divided as to whether it can be triggered by stress. The hair on the head tends to fall out in circles, leaving bare patches of healthy-looking skin of up to a couple of centimetres in size.
Since there’s no simple or quick way of undoing the problem, if hair loss hits your child, you’ll need to provide emotional and psychological support. Firstly, let a doctor check that the condition isn’t a symptom of something else, such as thyroid disease – a condition which affects the glands.
If there’s no other underlying problem, then it’s a question of waiting to see when and whether the hair grows back. This can be an anxious, stressful time for kids, and it can make going to school or having a social life feel very hard. Little Britain star Matt Lucas suffers from alopecia universalis, a condition which results in the complete loss of hair from all over the body. It started to affect him when he was just six. “I did feel very self-conscious about my appearance,” he’s said. “Going through puberty was hard.” Kids with alopecia need a lot of support. Alopeciaonline.org.uk is one organisation that can help.
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