A bride-to-be was left “traumatised” after all of her hair fell out in handfuls in just six weeks due to alopecia.
Sophie Hitchen, 24, first noticed hair falling away from her head in early April, and by mid-May she had lost about 90 of it.
The condition caused her once luscious locks to be reduced to wispy strands, which she later decided to shave off in a bid to “take back control”.
The experience was ‘traumatising’
Ms Hitchen, from Felixstowe, Suffolk, is now also starting to lose her bodily hair, including her eyebrows, and described the initial experience as “traumatising”.
After clumps of hair falling out in the shower and while brushing, she initially thought it was due to knots and tangles.
However, she noticed her clothes were beginning to get covered in hair and as things got progressively worse, she made a phone appointment with a doctor who suggested she have some blood tests.
The blood tests came back clear, but not long afterwards her fiance, James Keeble, spotted a bald patch at the back of her head.
She later returned to the doctor who sent her away with some lotion for eczema and sought out a specialist scalp doctor (trichologist) at the end of April, who finally diagnosed her with alopecia areata.
She explained: "After that, it happened really, really rapidly. That's what was so hard about it at first.
"For the first three weeks, I didn't know how to cope. I didn't get out of bed. I couldn't sleep, because I was too afraid of waking up to find more hair on the pillow.
"I had zero control over it. I didn't wash or brush my hair for weeks, because seeing the hair coming out was traumatising. It took over my life."
Ms Hitchen added that she started to cancel all of her wedding dress fittings as she could not face continuing with the planning, and described visiting a potential venue for the big day as "distressing", as it was in the midst of her hair falling out.
She said: "For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to get married at this venue. We booked it without even looking round it, because I wanted it that much.
"But when the day came to go and see it, it was right in the middle of everything happening.
"I pinned my hair back as tight as I could that day, so that I wouldn't have to think about it.
"It should have been the happiest day of my life - but I can't tell you how distressing it was."
Taking back control
After a difficult few weeks, Ms Hitchen decided to take back control and asked her fiance to shave off what little hair she had left, saying she “can’t even describe what a relief it was”.
She explained that she is naturally an anxious person, but being able to overcome this and find some positivity has made her “so proud”.
She is now on a six-week course of oral steroids to try and stop her immune system from attacking her hair and is due to return to her dermatologist later this month to discuss the option of continuing with a more effective course of steroid injections directly into her scalp.
There is no cure for alopecia and Ms Hitchen said the condition came “completely out of the blue”, with specialists “clueless!” as to what could have caused it.
She said: "Everyone who I have spoken to medically has asked if I have gone through any significant trauma or stress in my life.
"But I haven't - not to the extent that it would have caused this. There was no trigger for it."
Ms Hitchen recently spent £2,500 having a special hair 'unit' custom-made to fit her head, which is taped to her scalp so that she can sleep in it.
She explained: "It's really comfortable. It was specially fitted for my head, so I can't even really tell it's there.
"It's just going to make life so much easier - I can sleep in it, so I'm able to just get up and go in the mornings without having to worry about putting a wig on.
"It's taken away so much of the worry about how I'm going to feel pretty or how I'm going to feel like myself when it comes to my wedding."
Raising awareness for others
The determined 24-year-old, who is due to get married in October next year, said she now hopes to be a role model for other young people who are facing the same struggles that she did.
She added: "Going through this has been very isolating and lonely. I found that a lot of girls on social media have helped me get through this over the last couple of months.
"I wanted to be that girl for other people. I don't want anyone to feel like they're going through this alone.
"I've had so many lovely messages over the last few weeks from other girls or their parents who have said that my posts have really helped them.
"Nobody knows enough about alopecia or what really causes it. I just want to raise as much awareness as possible."
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