A growing number of children are experiencing hair loss, according to recent media hype. It’s not all that surprising either considering that along with genetics, stress is the main instigator of alopecia areata and that an estimated one in five children experience some form of mental health problem. A recent Parentline Plus survey revealed two thirds of parents are concerned about their children’s stress levels and, it would seem, not without good reason.
In a 2002 study involving 180 patients between 5 and 16 years of age, a stressful event or situation was cited at the onset or at a new outbreak of alopecia areata in 81 percent of cases. Prolonged stressful situations were more influential than single stressful events and the most prominent stress factors were experience of separation, relational problems, and difficulties of the child to come up to the expectations of their own parents with respect to the conduct in general and to progress in school. These findings are further confirmed in the Parentline Plus survey which identified bullying (33 percent), parents’ separation (28), drug use (11) and rejection by a parent (eight) as the main causes of stress.
Alopecia areata is a relatively common hair loss condition that can affect as many as one person in a thousand at some time in their life but exact figures for children are not known. It falls in the category of autoimmune disorders which means that for unknown reasons, the body’s own immune system attacks the hair follicles and disrupts normal hair formation. What activates and promotes the onset of alopecia areata is largely unknown but there are several suggested factors that may influence the course of alopecia areata.
With alopecia areata, hair loss is quite patchy and tends to occur rapidly. There is also a form of more generalised thinning of hair referred to as diffuse alopecia areata throughout the scalp. Occasionally, all of the scalp hair is lost, a condition referred to as alopecia totalis. Less frequently, the loss of all of the hairs on the entire body, called alopecia universalis, occurs.
In some cases of alopecia areata, hair will regrow within a year without any treatment but the longer the period of hair loss, the less likelihood that the hair will regrow. Leonora Doclis, senior trichologist at the Belgravia Centre says there is no prognosis to determine the likelihood that the child’s hair will grow back.
“As a rule of thumb, if within six months the hair hasn’t grown back it’s time to do something about it,” Leonora said.