Australian women have been urged to look out for the symptoms of a particular form of the hair loss condition alopecia, with the condition often dismissed by doctors as a part of the ageing process.
When Queensland woman Catherine West went to the dermatologist for a mole check four years ago, she didn’t expect to instead receive a diagnosis of frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA).
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The 50-year-old had previously gone to see someone after she noticed she no longer had any hair on her body, however her hair loss concerns were brushed-off.
“(The doctor) was like, ‘No, I don’t know, it’s nothing … it’s just part of ageing’,” she told 7NEWS.
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FFA is an autoimmune form of alopecia that was first identified in Australia in 1994.
Initially, FFA was considered rare however more and more women are now presenting with the variant.
It’s characterised by the loss of hair over the frontal area of the scalp, such as the hairline, fringe and sideburns. It can also affect the eyebrows.
Dermatologist Dr Leona Yip said the cause of FFA was largely unknown, however a number of contributing factors have been identified, such as genetics, hormones and lifestyle and environmental factors.
Catherine West was diagnosed with frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) four years ago. Credit: 7NEWSFFA is characterised by the loss of hair over the frontal area of the scalp. Credit: 7NEWS
Signs of the condition include redness around the hairline, thinning of the hair on the temples, itching and eyebrow loss.
“Sometimes women can lose eyebrows before the hairline starts to recede,” Yip said.
“Some women can lose eyelashes … (and) their face can start to develop little bumps called papules.”
FFA usually occurs in women during or after menopause. Men can also be affected, but it is less common.
There is no cure for FFA, however treatment includes trying to reduce the inflammation of the hair follicles in an attempt to reduce the permanent damage and scarring of the hairline.
“Without treatment, we know that the hairline at the front goes further back by about 1cm every year,” Yip said.
Dermatologist Dr Leona Yip said early diagnosis of FFA was the key to stopping its progression. Credit: 7NEWS
West said thinking about what her hair might look like in the future was quite daunting. She also said the condition had a major impact on her self-confidence.
“It’s actually really hard to come to terms with because you look at it, and you think ‘women aren’t meant to be bold’,” she said.
“I made the mistake of, when I was first diagnosed, googling FFA and then seeing pictures and I can remember looking at them and having a moment (and thinking) ‘I’m gonna be ugly’.
“It does a lot for your self-esteem.”
For treatment to be most effective, Yip said an early diagnosis was key.
“Once the hair follicles are destroyed, there’s nothing we can do to salvage (them) and get hair regrowth,” she said.
“That’s why it’s really important for those who think they have FFA to seek treatment early to stop that progression as much as possible.”
Anyone experiencing symptoms similar to that of FFA should see their GP.
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