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Acclaimed Photographer Develops Alopecia Areata After Shock of Iraq Assignment

People can be surprised to hear how stress can affect hair loss.

It can trigger or worsen pattern baldness and cause thinning hair from temporary conditions but, as top photographer Graeme Robertson will attest, when the stress is sudden and shockingly intense, it can literally make hair fall out.

Shocking scenes brought on hair loss

CameraThe Guardian photographer recently told Irish online newspaper thejournal.ie that a trip to Iraq led to the onset of the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata, which causes hair to fall out quickly, usually in rounded patches. He says the stress of seeing people dying and running for his life while getting shot at resulted in him losing most of his hair.

I think it changed me a lot,” he told the newspaper of his time in Iraq. “It changed me to a point that I am a better person for it. I think it damaged me slightly, in a way that it might not damage other people or other photographers, but I wouldn’t change it. I’ve got the scars from it and I remember it and I wouldn’t change it. But it was a very difficult time.”

To be clear, Robertson was not referring to scars from Alopecia – the condition is physically painless and has no visible signs aside from its hallmark hair loss.

Stress – particularly sudden shock or trauma – has been named as the underlying cause in multiple cases of Alopecia Areata, including those of a woman in Australia who lost her hair after a car accident, the socialite Jemima Khan who experienced patchy hair loss following a traumatic incident on-board a flight, and also a drug-dealer from Scotland who said that the stress of his impending trial led to hair loss.

What happens in Alopecia Areata is that the immune system effectively turns on itself and starts attacking the hair follicles, resulting in hair falling out. In many cases, the hair will shed from a specific patch or patches, though it can be more profound and lead to all-over hair loss depending on the extent of the condition.

Though Alopecia Areata solely affects the scalp and causes patchy hair loss, the more severe versions, Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis, cause complete hair loss of the scalp and often the head, including eyebrows, eyelashes and facial hair, and total baldness from head to toe, respectively.

Dealing with alopecia areata

Graeme doesn’t talk further about his hair loss or any treatment he may have had in the article, though in a Guardian video interview in 2014 he is seen with a completely bald head, suggesting either that his Alopecia Areata has been severe or that he has chosen to deal with it by shaving off his remaining hair.

Whilst in the majority of cases of mild alopecia areata hair will regrow naturally in the bald patches within 12 months, it is such an unpredictable condition that whether or not this will happen is usually a case of ‘wait and see’. It can take many more years or may even be permanent. This type of alopecia can also recur once it has cleared up.

Although, as before, this is a physically pain-free condition, the uncertainty it brings and its highly visible nature can cause self-confidence issues and emotional stress.

Treatments for Alopecia Areata can help to accelerate the regrowth process and Belgravia has seen many successful instances of clients growing their hair back through following bespoke programmes based around high strength minoxidil products from the range offered at our Central London clinics.

One of the clients featured in our Alopecia Areata Treatment Success Stories, Mr. H, pictured here, explains how growing his hair back helped him: “I am back on track and can continue with my life… I have my confidence back and the spring in my step.

Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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