Alopecia Areata

The Causes of Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles. Some scientists believe that genetics may be a factor, however the cause is unknown.

The Symptoms of Alopecia Areata

The main symptom of alopecia areata is loss of hair in small, round patches (roughly the size of a quarter) on the scalp. However, other types of diseases can cause hair to fall out in this same pattern. This symptom alone should not be used to diagnose alopecia areata.

Patients with alopecia areata experience hair loss in random patches on the scalp. Other forms of alopecia include alopecia totalis, when the hair loss starts happening across the entire head and alopecia universalis, which causes total loss of all body hair.

will review your symptoms to determine if you have alopecia areata. He or she may also perform a scalp biopsy to rule out other conditions. Blood tests may also be performed if other autoimmune diseases are suspected.

Those Who May Get Alopecia Areata

Anyone can develop alopecia areata; however, your chances of having alopecia areata are slightly greater if you have a relative with the disease. In addition, alopecia areata occurs more often among people who have family members with autoimmune disorders such as diabetes, lupus, or thyroid disease.

Is Alopecia Areata Curable?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for alopecia areata, but you may be able to stop the loss of hair, or even grow it back naturally or with the aid of medication. However, it is important to note that there are no drugs approved to treat alopecia areata.

In many cases, alopecia areata is treated with drugs that are used for other conditions. Some treatments for alopecia areata usually suggested are:

 

  • Corticosteroids: Anti-inflammatory drugs that are prescribed for autoimmune diseases. Corticosteroids can be given as an injection into the scalp or other areas, orally (as a pill), or applied topically (rubbed into the skin) as an ointment, cream, or foam. Response to therapy may be gradual.
  • Topical contact allergens or sensitizers: This type of therapy may be used if the hair loss is widespread or if it recurs. The inflammation that the treatments cause may promote hair regrowth. Another name for this treatment is topical immunotherapy.
  • Rogaine (minoxidil): This topical drug is already used as a treatment for pattern baldness. It usually takes about 12 weeks of treatment with Rogaine before hair begins to grow. Results can be disappointing.
  • Other therapies include steroid injections, corticosteroid creams, or photochemotherapy, a treatment that uses a combination of oral medication and ultraviolet light.

Other Tips for Alopecia Areata

Apart from drug treatments, there are various cosmetic and protective techniques that people with alopecia areata can try. They cover:

  • Using makeup to hide or minimize hair loss
  • Wearing coverings (wigs, hats, or scarves) to protect the head from the elements
  • Reducing stress. Many people with new-onset alopecia areata have had recent stresses in life, such as work, family, deaths, surgeries, accidents, etc. However, this has not been proven scientifically as the cause of alopecia areata.

While the disease is not medically serious, it can impact people psychologically. Support groups are available to help people with alopecia areata deal with the psychological effects of the condition. Further information may be found at the National Alopecia Areata Foundation .