Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE) published a qualitative study in August that explores the experience of men with alopecia areata (AA). Designed with the help of Alopecia UK, the study sought the views of men with AA to determine how their experience of the condition differed from that of women. It is hoped that the findings of the work will help health workers provide better practical and psychosocial support to male patients.
So, what were the main findings of the research? Read on to find out more!
AA occurs when the body’s immune system starts attacking healthy hair follicle cells. The hair loss that results can take the form of small, isolated patches or total baldness, known as alopecia totalis. The hair loss can also affect the rest of the body in the case of alopecia universalis. The reasons why AA arises are not totally clear, although it is known that there is a genetic link. While men and women are thought to suffer from the condition in equal numbers, most research has focused on the experience of women.
The impact of the condition can be severe in both men and women. AA strikes at an individual’s confidence and self-esteem, affecting the individual’s ability to do their job or sustain relationships.
The research looked at the impact of the condition on the lives of participants. It also explored the reaction of others to AA in the participants and how this affected the sufferers. It examined how the participants managed their AA and from where they sought help. Finally, it asked the men interviewed if they perceived any differences in how AA affected them differently from how it affected women.
The researchers found that four main themes emerged in their interviews with participants. The first of these was that men with AA feel unnoticed by society because their condition goes largely unrecognised by those around them. AA in men is often confused with male pattern baldness. As a result, male sufferers believe they are not given the same opportunity afforded to women to discuss their experiences.
This is compounded, according to participants, by a societal attitude that views the male experience of hair loss as somehow easier for men than for women. The cumulative effect of these factors was that men often felt forced to keep their AA hidden.
The second theme identified by researchers was a contextual one; it showed that participants’ experience of AA had been shaped by the context of their lives and the society around them. At a personal level, many of those interviewed expressed the view that AA added to the difficulties they already faced. This was particularly an issue for those from a minority ethnic or sexual orientation background or people with medical difficulties. At a wider level, participants felt that public attitudes also dictated their experience. For example, participants experienced the view that AA in men was simply male pattern baldness as a denial of their reality and something that trivialised their difficulties. The notion that hair loss was a more difficult issue for women to deal with was also viewed as an airbrushing of the male experience.
A third theme to emerge from the interviews was a sense of being burdened by AA. Participants believed that their capacity to live normal lives without always feeling self-conscious had been seriously undermined. They were acutely aware of looks and comments directed at them to the extent that they withdrew from taking part in some activities. Alternatively, they were constantly obliged to explain their condition to others.
This perpetual self-consciousness felt like a weight upon their shoulders, one that affected their mental health. All this contributed to a sense of emasculation. Participants felt less attractive, particularly when they had lost body or facial hair to AA.
A fourth theme, and the one positive note to arise from the study, was that participants identified a degree of personal development as a result of their battle with AA. Some of this was attributed to the passing of years and the ability to accept AA more easily. Others talked about the changes and personal growth that had come about through having to deal with AA.
The study provides a nuanced understanding of how AA affects men differently from how it affects women. This should help health professionals provide better support to those men who present with the condition. It should also help other men affected by AA to know that theirs is not an isolated experience.
Whether you are male or female, you should seek advice if you are worried about the condition of your hair. Vinci Hair Clinic is here to help. We are one of the largest hair restoration organisations in the world with clinics in many countries. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to all our new clients. Get in touch and book your appointment today!