“I’m quite a sensitive guy; I can close myself off to a lot of things and concentrate on my job, and it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, from [photographing] people dying or an AIDS campaign, or running for your life getting shot at, but I did struggle to a point that I got alopecia and lost most of my hair.”
What is alopecia areata?
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that presents as sudden loss of hair, typically in small, round patches. It’s thought that the body’s immune system targets the hair follicles, forcing them to move rapidly into the resting phase of hair growth.
It is not known why only certain areas are affected and why the affected hair follicles can recover and start producing hair as normal or why it can sometimes progress to total hair loss of the scalp or the entire body. The exact cause of alopecia areata is also not known but there are a number of factors that have been identified as potential triggers.
The possible causes of alopecia areata
Shock or an isolated episode of extreme stress as experienced by photographer Graeme Robertson during his time in Iraq
Viral or bacterial infections
Physical trauma or injury
The role that extreme stress or a shock can play in the development of alopecia areata is not proven and some researchers have cast doubt on its significance. Anecdotal evidence abounds of sufferers experiencing alopecia after a ‘stressor’ in the form of a death of a family member or car accident, for example, but some argue that genetic predisposition plays a more important role and the stressful event works as a trigger.
As Graeme concluded, the experience “changed me a lot, it changed me to a point that I am a better person for it” and he is now working with the charity Sightsavers to produce a series of photographs of people living with disabilities.
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“I just want to say thank you to Dr David Fenton (and his team!) for the exceptional care and kindness shown to my son over the last 18 months. His support also to an anxious mother has been tremendous”