A bride-to-be was left “traumatised” after all her hair fell out in just six week due to alopecia – but is now determined to be a role model for others with the condition.
Sophie Hitchen, 24, from Felixstowe, Suffolk, was “traumatised” to find her hair falling out in April.
She said: “I noticed that clumps started coming out when I was in the shower, or when I was brushing my hair.
“At first I thought nothing of it, thinking it was probably just knots that were falling out.
“But then over the next week or so, I noticed that my clothes were ending up getting absolutely covered in hair.”
Ms Hitchen, who works as a sales team leader for a shipping company, had doctors take some blood tests which came back negative.
But soon afterwards her fiancé James Keeble spotted her first bald patch on the back of her head.
Ms Hitchen went to see a trichologist – a specialist scalp doctor – who finally diagnosed her with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that affects the hair follicles.
She said: “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 cancelled her wedding dress fittings and visiting her wedding venue while her hair was falling out was a “distressing” day.
She said: “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to get married at this venue.
“It should have been the happiest day of my life – but I can’t tell you how distressing it was.”
By the middle of May Ms Hitchen had lost around 90 percent of her hair, which was left in wispy strands.
On May 15th she decided to take action and asked her fiance James, 35, to shave off what was left of her hair.
She said: “I can’t even describe what a relief it was. It felt like I was taking back control of what had been controlling me for the previous six weeks.”
Ms Hitchen, who has started losing hair elsewhere on her body, has received messages of support on social media after posting about her experience.
“Going through this has been very isolating and lonely”, she said.
“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.”
The wedding is set to happen in October next year.
Ms Hitchen is on a six-week course of oral steroids to try to stop her immune system from attacking her hair, and is consulting about having steroid injections into her scalp.
She said: “There’s no cure for alopecia – it’s more about calming my immune system down so I don’t lose any more hair from my body.”
Ms Hitchen also recently spent £2,500 on a custom made hair unit to fit her head which is taped to her scalp so she can sleep and even swim wearing it.
She said: “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.”
But she acknowledged she is in a lucky position to be able to pay for treatment privately when people relying on the NHS receive less convincing wigs.