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Ophiasis is a pattern of baldness that typically appears in a band in the area from the top of the ears down. Its name comes from the Greek word ophis, which means snake, and is a reference to the way the hair loss pattern wraps around the head in a manner similar to the reptile. This condition is one of the types of alopecia areata, a condition where hair is lost in specific areas of the body and particularly the head. It typically starts in one spot and slowly spreads over time.
The primary cause of the condition is believed to be disruption of the hair follicle cycle. The stages of this cycle are anagen, catagen, and telogen. Ophiasis begins when the follicles are damaged during the anagen or growth period. This can cause the body to move through the catagen, or regression, period and rest period, telogen, too quickly. Without proper time to regenerate, the next anagen cycle will produce either very little or no hair in the areas with damaged follicles.
Though ophiasis most commonly develops in young people, it has been known to appear at any age. The condition appears to affect men and women with equal frequency. It has tended to be a rare disease overall.
Ophiasis is usually one of the most difficult forms of alopecia areata to treat. While there are many cases of alopecia in which hair eventually grows back, the chances of regrowth among ophiasis patients are much lower. This is primarily because medications, which are usually administered via shampoos and gels, have tended to have delayed effectiveness in this particular part of the body.
Aside from the actual hair loss, there are few other symptoms of ophiasis. Typically the only other sign is the appearance of indentations or other abnormal formations in the fingernails. This is due to a loss of keratin similar to that experienced in the hair.
The condition is an autoimmune disease. Patients who have this type of baldness will often also suffer from allergies, hypothyroidism, asthma, and other problems associated with the immune system. Most individuals who develop it will not have any other skin condition.
There is another similar condition called ophiasis inversus, in which the same hair loss pattern presents itself in the opposite formation on the head, above the ears. It is also known as sisaipho, which is ophiasis spelled backward. Individuals with this condition will typically have a band of hair around the area below the ears.