Doctors believe they have finally discovered precisely what causes a common skin issue which, when it affects the head, can often lead to an itchy scalp – something many people consult Belgravia’s hair loss and scalp health specialists about.
Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is one of the most widely-seen skin complaints but what exactly causes it was something of a mystery until researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the US Food and Drug Administration and Harvard University Medical School started to investigate.
The team found that a common bacterium called staphylococcus aureus – which lives on the bodies of around 20-30 per cent of people – sometimes stimulates the production of a protein which causes our own cells to react. This leads to inflammation and the resulting itchy scalp.
Inflammation is a frequently-named symptom in many hair loss conditions – though the causes can vary.
Interestingly, a team of doctors at the Warren Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island, recently found that people with atopic dermatitis had a heightened risk of going on to experience patchy hair loss from an autoimmune disorder often linked to inflammation – Alopecia Areata.
This follows a 2015 study which suggested that people with Alopecia Areata were more prone to developing atopic dermatitis. In that same year it was discovered by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai that atopic dermatitis is immune-driven and, therefore, is considered an autoimmune disease. When a person has one autoimmune disorder, they are likely to develop more from this group of conditions.
Whilst treatment for Alopecia Areata can be effective when people present with the scalp-only version of the disease, the more severe phenotypes which cause extensive baldness are currently unable to be medically managed.
The Rhode Island team suggested that atopic dermatitis should be recorded as a risk factor for Alopecia Areata – something that may give doctors an early warning when someone experiences the type of bald patches that the condition results in.
Writing about the latest study, Lloyd Miller MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said: “Our skin is covered with bacteria as part of our normal skin microbiome and typically serves as a barrier that protects us from infection and inflammation. However, when that barrier is broken, the increased exposure to certain bacteria really causes problems.”
Whether or not the findings of Dr Miller and his peers will lead to significant developments in terms of potential new hair loss treatments remains to be seen, but the discovery certainly throws a few extra ingredients into the ever-growing cauldron of knowledge pertaining to skin complaints, inflammation and autoimmune disorders. In testing their findings, the researchers discovered that when they were able to suppress the suspected protein in mice, inflammation was greatly reduced when the animals were exposed to Staphylococcus aureus.
Itchy scalp and hair loss
Though the hair can certainly be damaged by continually scratching at an itchy scalp, and if the skin becomes broken it can increase the chance for infection, which may then cause temporary shedding, an itchy scalp and hair loss are not intrinsically linked.
If you are experiencing this kind of sensation, there are many far more probable causes than hairloss. Whether it is an allergic reaction – contact dermatitis – or a skin condition such as psoriasis, or the result of a burn or other accidental injury, a scalp care professional will be able to advise you as to how best to deal with your condition without damaging your hair.
While Belgravia’s area of expertise is in hair loss treatment, advice about scalp problems can often be given, as can products including concentrated medicated shampoos, which may alleviate the symptoms.
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.