Pittsburgh Steelers player Ryan Shazier is the latest in a long line of sportsmen to speak out about his Alopecia Areata in the hope it will give strength to children with the condition.
He was inspired by fellow American Charlie Villanueva, the bald NBA star with Alopecia Universalis who is currently making a movie of his life story to raise awareness of the condition. Shazier told sports website ESPN that he too wants to do whatever he can to help people with Alopecia Areata, and that he has even got his sports agency involved.
“I know there are a lot of people struggling with it right now,” says the NFL star. “I just took it and embraced it, and I really feel like it made me the person I am now. I definitely want to help out.”
Hair loss condition affects many
Alopecia Areata is thought to affect between one and two per cent of Americans at some time in their lives, and almost always takes them by complete surprise. It has numerous known triggers such as long term or sudden stress, physical trauma, and genetics are also thought to play a part. It typically happens quickly, resulting in patchy hair loss anywhere on the scalp.
For Shazier as a child, this meant an uncomfortable few years of name-calling from other children. According to his father, Vernon, who spoke to ESPN for the article, it was especially difficult on the football field when taunting would happen whenever Shazier took off his football helmet. “My wife was ready to fight in the stands,” he said.
Shazier is now 23, and has had around a decade to get used to the idea that his hair is not growing back. In many cases hair lost to Alopecia Areata does return, but pictures of the player suggest that given his lack of eyebrows, Shazier may a more severe form of Alopecia known as Alopecia Totalis (hair loss all over the head) or Alopecia Universalis (hair loss all over the head and body).
As yet, the limited options for treating Alopecia Totalis and Universalis have a far lower success rate although potential JAK inhibitor treatments are currently looking promising during clinical trials.
Painful injections for hair loss
Shazier tells ESPN that one of the most painful aspects of his hair loss was a series of scalp injections he underwent as a teenager – most likely steroid injections which are used to try and stop the body’s immune system from attacking hair follicles (Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder which turns the body against the hair follicles). These injections are famously uncomfortable to undergo which is why many with the condition choose less invasive options instead.
For his part, Shazier decided to ditch the injections and face up to his hair loss. As his sporting ability increased, so too did his self-confidence.
“Everybody goes through their own adversity,” says Shazier, “but it’s tough when you’re younger and everyone has hair. It toughened me up a little bit and made me realise no matter what the situation, it really doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t struggle with it.”
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